The Oakland Education Association, the local teachers union, is currently in negotiations with the district over distance learning working conditions. The contract specifies that teachers have to agree to any change in working conditions, including a switch to distance learning. Some union representatives have said teachers would not agree to start the school year without proof that all students are connected with devices and reliable high-speed internet access.

“There’s this push for us to start school on Aug. 10,” said Jamila Brooks, a teacher at Montclair Elementary School who is part of negotiations with the district. “But not every family in our district knows how to use a device, how to access Zoom, and so that’s been one of our new challenges.”

Brooks said many teachers are highly skeptical of the district’s ability to deliver on its promises. She noted the district’s recently announced plan to ask families of all OUSD students to fill out an online form outlining their digital needs, scoffing at the flawed logic of asking people without online access to fill out an online form.

“We have to make sure that the devices are in hand, they’re working, there are hotspots, people are adequately trained, before we can hit the ground running,” Brooks insisted.

#OaklandUndivided, the coalition behind the city’s fundraising campaign, is working with roughly 20 community organizations to help families without internet access register for the digital tools they need. Over the summer, parent advocacy group The Oakland Reach, one of the groups involved, took matters into their own hands, raising money for devices and distributing them to local families to support summer learning.

Tech Exchange’s Hubbert is hoping #OaklandUndivided is a step forward toward the concept of universal basic internet, and is encouraged that some Oakland leaders are considering the concept of the internet as a public utility.

“There’s now a greater number of people working on these problems at (the) local level, state level, federal level. That’s certainly a hope of mine, that this (pandemic) kind of wakes people up,” he said. “Digital divide gaps are still huge. It’s time we rethink how we’re supporting our most underserved communities with access.”