As the start of the school year draws ever closer, local school district administrators are providing more details on what the fall will look like.
At board meetings last week, the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District and Los Altos School District both reviewed their reopening plans. District officials covered plans for teaching and learning as well as health and safety procedures once in-person classes resume, and the current budget status, among other areas.
MVLA will start the year fully remote. That’s in line with California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s requirement that schools only reopen once their county has been off the state COVID-19 monitoring list for 14 consecutive days. Santa Clara County was on the list as of the Town Crier’s Monday press deadline.
Although all classes will start remotely, families will have two learning options to choose between. Parents are being asked to select one option for the full semester.
In Option A, students will have their normal schedule of classes, each with an MVLA teacher. Students will return to campus if it becomes permissible and the school deems it safe, according to Teri Faught, distance learning administrator.
In Option B, students will stay remote for the full semester. Classes will be offered through UC Scout and Edgenuity, both online content providers, with an MVLA teacher overseeing multiple courses. Faught said Option B was created for students with a “special circumstance,” such as families where the student or other household member is at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
At last week’s board meeting, parents and trustees raised questions about the two options. Trustee Phil Faillace said that though he thinks most families will choose Option A, some parents are fearful about being told to return to campus before they are comfortable.
“I’m concerned that Option B will still be tempting to some parents because of the lack of confidence that what we are told is safe is really safe,” Faillace said, citing in particular the politicization of the pandemic at the national level.
When in-person learning resumes, MVLA plans to implement various safety measures. The precautions include installing plexiglass barriers and touchless hand-sanitizer dispensers, as well as using tape and markers to indicate 6 feet of separation. The district expects to receive more than $2 million in state and federal funding to help cover pandemic-related costs.
With classes starting remotely, a group of teachers gave a presentation at last week’s board meeting about their preparations for virtual learning. According to Mountain View High choir teacher Jill Denny, though classes will be held online, performing arts will remain performance-based learning. Choir students are going to receive at-home recording equipment, including a microphone and stand.
“It’s going to feel a little different, but it’s still going to be awesome,” Denny said. “We are committed to preserving the integrity of our programs.”
When Newsom announced that schools can’t reopen if their county is on the state’s monitoring list, the Los Altos School District had to put plans on hold for a partial in-person return. The district had been intending to bring students back in two cohorts, with each on campus two days per week. There also would have been an option for students to stay entirely remote.
Although plans for an in-person return are now delayed, the district still plans to offer two tracks families can choose between: one where students go back to campus when restrictions ease, the other where learning remains 100% virtual. Parents will have the opportunity to switch between options every six weeks.
“When we do get the green light to begin bringing children back, we want to make sure that we are set up to do that,” Superintendent Jeff Baier said at last week’s board meeting. “Setting up now, planning for staffing now in each of these models, is critical.”
Roughly 18-20% of parents have selected the fully virtual option, Baier said in a follow-up interview. The remainder picked the blended path.
The district is also considering requesting a waiver from the county to bring back certain groups of elementary school students. For more on that, check out the article on page 19.
As it becomes permissible, LASD intends to first bring back those students who have the hardest time in distance learning. Then, the district hopes to use the blended model with two cohorts to bring back grade levels, starting with the youngest students.
According to Baier, grades would be brought back in pairs (transitional kindergarten and kindergarten, then first and second grade, then third and fourth, etc.), with at least two weeks likely needed between phases.
One parent at last week’s meeting asked whether it would be possible to bring back seventh- and eighth-graders sooner, because they are on separate campuses. However, Baier said that under the state’s current restrictions, only elementary schools are eligible to apply for waivers to return.
When students eventually return to campus, health precautions will be in place. Parents will need to screen students for symptoms each day before sending them to school. The district is working on rolling out an app where symptom screening information can be filled out.
Masks will be required in the classroom for grades 3-6, and expected to the greatest extent possible for younger students. Large gatherings, such as field trips and assemblies, won’t be held.