LASD seeks waiver to bring struggling students back to campus

The Los Altos School District is seeking a waiver from Santa Clara County to resume in-person learning for the students hardest hit by remote instruction.

The district applied to reopen campuses for specific groups, including certain special-education students, English-language learners and low-income students. The district’s application also seeks to bring back students in transitional kindergarten through third grade. The waiver request is now in the county’s queue for review.

“We really feel like we can, in a measured way, in a cautious way, begin to bring students back safely,” Superintendent Jeff Baier said.

Last Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a new four-tier system for assessing the pandemic’s status in each county. Santa Clara County is in the most restrictive group, dubbed the “widespread” tier.

Although reopening schools is broadly prohibited while a county is in the “widespread” tier, there is an exception allowing elementary schools to return to campus if they receive a waiver from their local health department.

The Los Altos School District initially submitted a waiver application Aug. 17. After consulting with the county, the district revised its request and submitted a new application Friday.

In its initial waiver request, the district sought to bring back the groups that have the toughest time with online learning, followed by the broader student body in phases from transitional kindergarten through sixth grade. The biggest piece of feedback from the county was to narrow the scope of the waiver request, Baier said.

The district submitted an updated application last Friday, limiting the scope to students in third grade and below, plus the highest-need students.

If the waiver is approved, the district plans to first bring back the targeted groups of students who require additional support. Next, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten would return in an A/B cohort model, where students are split into two groups, each on campus two days a week. First- through third-graders then would be brought back in ascending order.

Even if the waiver is granted, the district will continue to run an all-virtual program for families who don’t want their children returning to campus. Students can switch between the all-virtual and hybrid options every six weeks.

The county hasn’t given an official date by which it will decide on the application, but Baier said in an email to parents that he expects it to take at least a few weeks.

As of the Town Crier’s Monday press deadline, the county had approved waiver applications from the Moreland School District and Sunnyvale Christian School. Countywide, three public school districts, three charter schools and 54 private schools have pending waivers. Locally, Bullis Charter School, Los Altos Christian Schools and Pinewood School are among the applicants.

New state guidelines

Separate from the waiver process, the state released new rules last week permitting groups of students most impacted by distance learning to return to campus in cohorts of 14 or fewer.

Districts are not required to get formal approval from their local health department to bring cohorts back, according to state FAQ document, but must follow any more restrictive requirements that are in place at the local level.

In response to questions about whether there is more restrictive guidance, Santa Clara County’s public relations team said in a written statement that the county “is updating its Mandatory Directive for Schools to allow schools to provide specialized and targeted support services and limited in-person instruction to small cohorts of high-needs students.”

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