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LASD approves plan for part-time return to school

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Local school campuses have sat empty since the coronavirus pandemic forced school closures in mid-March. Now, the Los Altos School District is planning for a partial return to in-person learning this fall.

The Los Altos School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously Monday (July 6) to start the school year with a mix of online and in-person classes.

The district’s plan is to begin school with a blended approach, where students are on campus two days a week and work from home for three days. Parents who don’t feel comfortable returning to in-person lessons can opt for a 100% virtual format.

Although the board signed off on starting the year partially remote, plans could still shift before school starts. Administrators have laid out a reopening strategy that includes various scenarios, ranging from being entirely online to fully in-person.

“I think it’s really important we think of this as a continuum,” Superintendent Jeff Baier said at the meeting. “What we’re talking about is starting at a particular point on that continuum, but knowing that we’re more than a month out, that could change as well.”

At Monday night’s meeting, parents and teachers spoke during the public comment period, asking questions and in some cases bringing up concerns with the district’s plans.

Anand Ranganathan raised various questions, including how video lessons will accommodate students with disabilities and what safety protocols will be in place for recess.

“My hope is that certainly before parents have to make a decision, they know the answers to all of these questions,” Ranganathan said. “And certainly, I was hoping that some of these would already be addressed before the board has to vote on it.”

District administrators intend to bring health and operations plans to the board in late July. The plan presented Monday focused on teaching and learning.

Blended approach

To create a plan for the new school year, Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Sandra McGonagle said district staff looked at various options, including livestreaming lessons, bringing back only certain grades or staying entirely remote. Ultimately, they settled on the blended approach the board reviewed Monday.

The district intends to split students into two groups, with group A on campus Mondays and Tuesdays, and group B at school Thursdays and Fridays. All students would work from home on Wednesdays, as well as the two days the other group is on campus.

As district officials plan for the fall, they are consulting with the state and Santa Clara County for guidance. The county released a reopening guide June 30, which states that education is an essential service and “the reopening of school campuses for in-person instruction with strict safety protocols should be prioritized.”

The county also lays out recommendations and requirements that districts must meet when reopening. These include having elementary school students in one stable classroom cohort for the entire school day and having junior high and high school students wear face coverings in the classroom.

Although the ultimate goal is to return to fully in-person learning, Baier said starting with a blended model will give the district time to implement the dozens of new protocols that need to be in place. Board president Bryan Johnson similarly said a blended model “seems like the only way to start,” given that the district will be training thousands of students, parents and staff on new procedures.

Trustee Vaishali Sirkay agreed that a blended model is a responsible way to start, but added that things will remain in flux as the district adapts to an ever-changing pandemic.

“We just need to be super flexible,” Sirkay said. “We have no idea what this virus going to do in the fall.”

For more details on the reopening plan, check out this article from last week.

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