Athletes set to return to MVLA campuses – in small groups

MVHS football practice
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier File Photo
Mountain View High School Coach and Athletic Director Shelley Smith observes players during a 2017 football practice. Although the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District is allowing sports practices to return, students will be mainly conditioning so that they maintain physical distance to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.

Limited cohorts of local high school athletes will be allowed to return to campus starting next week, though the broader school reopening plan is still under consideration.

The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District hosted a webinar Wednesday (June 17), where administrators laid out the current status of planning for next school year.

Los Altos High School Principal Wynne Satterwhite announced that starting Monday (June 22), specific groups of athletes will begin to return to campus, with no more than 12 students per coach. Athletes will only be able to participate in one sport and can’t also play for outside teams. Students haven’t been allowed on campus since schools closed March 13.

Athletes will practice outside and to maintain physical distance, they will primarily do conditioning exercises. Satterwhite said that while it was going to be challenging, the district is focused on having kids return to campus in a safe and healthy way.

“I think it’s important for parents and students to know our goal is to get students back and be as creative as we can,” she said.

The district is still waiting for guidance from the county and state on just what the start of the school year will look like. In the meantime, the district has convened a task force to work on multiple potential reopening plans. The options include remaining remote, returning to campus with safety measures in place, and a hybrid of the two.

“They’re sitting down and really having hard conversations about how we best meet the needs of students – and that is always the measuring stick,” Satterwhite said.

Regardless of the final plan, letter grades are going to be returning in the fall, Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Margarita Navarro confirmed. This past semester, the district switched to credit/no-credit grading, a move that prompted an outcry from some parents and students.

Teachers are also planning to implement assessments in the fall to get baseline data on where students are academically, following the switch to distance learning.

“That will give teachers valuable information at the very start of the school year of any particular areas that they need to focus on,” Navarro said.

Added precautions

District officials are planning to put safety measures in place for when students and staff eventually return to campus. Temperature screenings are going to be needed, as well as face shields for everyone on campus, Associate Superintendent of Personnel Leyla Benson said.

“We are prepared. We have run through a variety of scenarios,” Benson said. “We anticipate the directions that are to come and once we have those confirmed, then we really build and focus our discussions.”

Additional cleaning, especially of high-touch surfaces, also will be necessary. The district has purchased some supplies already. The state will be sending supplies, including masks, face shields, thermometers and hand sanitizer, according to Associate Superintendent of Business Services Mike Mathiesen.

Signage and directional arrows to help maintain physical distancing may also be used on campus. Plexiglass shields, similar to those used in grocery stores, are also an option for school offices, Mathiesen said.

Even once campuses reopen, Benson said there’s a strong possibility that some students and staff will have extended absences. That’s going to require trained, long-term substitute teachers. In addition, officials are preparing procedures for the event a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19.

Plans are underway to support specific populations of students, including those in the special-education program. The data from last semester show those students were disproportionately likely to have limited engagement with remote learning, special-education director Kristen Hardy said. Staff are working to create plans to keep students on track, with options to support individual pupils.

Smaller programs, such as Alta Vista High School and Freestyle Academy of Communication Arts and Technology, are working on plans to return to campus in some capacity soon after school starts, alternative-education director Bill Pierce said. Their smaller numbers make it easier than bringing one of the large high schools back.

In the event that the high schools remain at least partially remote, teachers are developing plans to build a classroom community without meeting in person. That could include doing video sessions with smaller groups of students, so they can better connect, teacher’s union president Dave Campbell said.

“The reality is none of this is going to happen overnight,” Campbell said. “(Even) in a traditional instructional setting, it takes weeks to months.”

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