By JR Valrey
Kehinde Salter and the Oakland Education Association have been doing a wonderful job at representing the teachers, parents, students, and community who are concerned about their health, well being, and education as the ‘20-’21 school year has officially begun, during the pandemic. Currently distance learning is the order of the day, but it is not the only issue being discussed. As a community, we can not blink, when it comes to defending our youth and teachers, being put in unhealthy situations so diabolical administrators and government officials could access money and coax the public into thinking that everything is back to normal. Our backs are against the wall, but Oakland has some metaphorical prize fighters in our corner negotiating on our behalf, make sure you support them.
JR Valrey: The Oakland Unified School District, OUSD, has been claiming in the media that they came up with an agreement with the Oakland teachers, what does this agreement mean?
Kehinde Salter: The agreement thus far is about what crisis distance learning looks like. For example, how much screen time and “live learning” will students receive and will teachers provide? What will schedules look like across grade levels? How will OUSD address the digital divide? What will be put in place to protect students who do not have tech? What will be put into place to protect the health and well being of students and teachers being in front of a device for hours on end? How do we ensure that teachers who are also parents are respected as human beings who have to do double duty at home with their kids?
“The hotspots are sometimes problematic though because they do not have enough data in order to even be useful, so we cannot fail kids for lack of technology, but we also cannot educate them, and that is the part that breaks my heart.”
JR Valrey: Has the bargaining team made a deal with OUSD about when the children are supposed to go back into the school buildings, why or why not? What are the issues?
Kehinde Salter: We have yet to bargain in person learning and have been unwilling to even bargain it until the Covid rates in Oakland begin to drastically decline. The issue is that Oakland, unlike the rest of Alameda county, have some of the highest rates of Covid in the country. On top of that, our communities (especially our Black and Brown communities) suffer with all of the pre-existing health conditions that make Covid deadly: asthma, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and hypertension, obesity, etc. While our children may only deal with asthma, many parents and guardians deal with these other health concerns, so if the kids catch Covid at school and bring it home, it becomes especially problematic. Thus we won’t even bargain for schools re-opening until the rates of Covid drop dramatically.
JR Valrey: Do the teachers see an issue with the children only getting 1 hour of teacher instruction a day during distance learning? What is the district’s plan to get the children back on track when the pandemic is over?
Kehinde Salter: The students must receive 2 and a half hours a day of instruction, which is not enough. Yes we are all aware of that. However, in the absence of having children physically in school where we can control the learning environments of our students, this is what it is. This is why we refer to this as crisis distance learning. It is not ideal, just the cards we were dealt as a result of a global pandemic. Getting kids back on track will definitely be the real challenge, which is why we are all attempting to keep our kids from slipping through the cracks now. If we can keep them engaged now, getting them on track once we are back in schools should not be so difficult.
JR Valrey: What is the district doing about children that have no access to the internet?
Kehinde Salter: The district is supplying chromebooks and hotspots to students. The hotspots are sometimes problematic though because they do not have enough data in order to even be useful, so we cannot fail kids for lack of technology, but we also cannot educate them, and that is the part that breaks my heart.
JR Valrey: Has reviving the radio station at Fremont High ever come up in discussion?
Kehinde Salter: Reviving the radio station? I didn’t even know there was one. So if that has ever come up in a discussion, it wasn’t with me.
JR Valrey: How can people stay updated on what the bargaining team and OUSD has agreed on?
Kehinde Salter: All of the bargaining updates are on the OEA’s website at https://oaklandea.org/