Last spring, as part of its Covid-19 planning, OUSD announced that it would be installing temporary outdoor classrooms at every elementary school to enable students to learn outside where the risk of transmission of the virus is much lower. Along with upgrading ventilation systems, this was a key strategy for a safe return to school. This presentation from April 28th makes clear that ALL elementary schools were to receive these Outdoor Learning Spaces by the end of July, 2021.
Now, just two weeks before school is due to start on August 9th, as the delta variant is causing a spike in cases and parent and educator apprehension about returning to school is rising, we have learned that 20 schools still have not received their Outdoor Learning Spaces. Although staff has stated they are expected in the “next few weeks”, we are concerned that they will not be available for back to school on August 9th. Given that August weather is often sunny and hot, as well as the rise in cases in Alameda County and the greater risk of transmission with indoor contact, those Outdoor Learning Spaces are critical for student safety and comfort on day one.
OUSD prioritized schools serving white and affluent students while leaving our most vulnerable students without the outdoor classrooms needed for a safe return to school
97% of white OUSD elementary students attend schools that already have the outdoor classrooms in place, despite making up just 11% of our student population. Even more troubling is that students in East and West Oakland were left out of the original distribution, areas that historically have had the highest case rates and are likely to again as cases surge. While schools in the hills, North Oakland and around the lake already have those outdoor classrooms ready for day one, the mostly Black and Brown families in most of the East and all of the West are poised to start school in a few weeks without shaded outdoor spaces for children to learn more safely. This is not equity, nor is it good public health policy. It violates OUSD’s Reparations for Black students and Equity Policies, and it is simply unacceptable. OUSD needs to remedy this IMMEDIATELY, provide Outdoor Learning pods for all schools in Oakland, and to do it by the first day of school.
When systems and structures are built on white supremacy, we must act with intention to dismantle those structures. We understand that OUSD staff intended to provide shade structures first for those schools with higher enrollment and a higher intent to return last spring, which were largely the more affluent, whiter schools. Given the structural racism that underlies both of those conditions, any outcomes based on them were by definition inequitable and racist. This was a predictable outcome that OUSD should have avoided, but because we are a district steeped in white supremacy and anti-Black and Brown racism, we did not.
On top of the prioritization of white and affluent families in the rollout, OUSD has provided almost all of the most affluent hills schools with not one but two of the pods, while providing a single pod to most other sites, regardless of number of students enrolled or the concentration of Covid cases in the community. OUSD must provide a minimum of two pods to EVERY elementary site, and especially to those communities with high case incidence and limited community resources to privately fund shade structures and outdoor learning equipment.
Certainly, the failure to provide these Outdoor Learning Spaces to the remaining 20 schools, and the some 6500 non-white students that attend them, by August 9th will simply compound these inequities at a time when we need to be reassuring families that it is safe for their children to be back in school. Knowing that children can be learning outdoors, in shaded classroom pods, will help to ease parent concerns about whether it is safe to return to school. OUSD must do better, examining every decision for white supremacy bias and centering racial justice and equity every single time. They must act NOW to prevent further harm.
CONTACT THE SUPERINTENDENT AND BOARD MEMBERS TODAY!
Please take a minute to email Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and your school board director to demand that the remaining 20 schools receive their Outdoor Learning Spaces before August 9th, and that all schools be given two pods if they don’t already have them.
- Superintendent Johnson-Trammell: Kyla.Johnson@ousd.org
- OUSD Board President and District 6 representative: Shanthi.Gonzales@ousd.org
- District 1: Sam.Davis@ousd.org
- District 2: Aimee.Eng@ousd.org
- District 3: VanCedric.Williams@ousd.org
- District 4: Gary.Yee@ousd.org
- District 5: Mike.Hutchinson@ousd.org
- District 7: Clifford.Thompson@ousd.org