Schools allowed to broadly reopen, although not all will

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Marie Godderis/Town Crier
School campuses have sat empty since mid-March. Starting today, schools are allowed to broadly reopen, although some may choose to stay remote.

Update: This story was updated on Sept. 30.

Schools in Santa Clara County were allowed to reopen starting Sept. 23, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily did – at least at first. Some districts are opting to continue remote learning for now, while others are moving forward with plans for in-person classes.

As of Sept. 22, Santa Clara County managed to remain out of the state’s highest COVID-19 risk tier for two consecutive weeks. That’s the requirement to be allowed to broadly reopen schools.

The Los Altos School District brought the first groups of students back Monday (Sept. 28). The Mountain View Los Altos Union School District previously announced plans to stay remote through at least the first quarter, except for targeted cohorts of students, and the Cupertino Union School District has already decided to stay online until at least January.

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Marier Godderis/Town Crier
Students may soon return to local school campuses.

California is using a four-tier system to assess the risk of COVID-19 in each county. If a county can stay out of the highest level – dubbed the “purple” or “widespread” tier – for 14 consecutive days, schools are allowed to reopen on the 15th day. Santa Clara County first dropped out of the highest tier Sept. 8, making this the day schools can begin reopening.

Before this point, schools could only reopen if they got a waiver from their county or by bringing back limited cohorts of students. The waivers were only available for elementary schools and, per the state’s guidance, the cohorts were intended for those students most impacted by distance learning, rather than the broader population.

Today marks the first time that schools can bring back students across all grade levels, but they must still follow county and state reopening guidelines. Those include mandatory masks in the classroom for adults and all students in third grade and above, subject to limited exemptions.

Below is a roundup of what local districts are planning, now that they can reopen.

Los Altos School District

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Graphic by Ryan Molinari/Special to the Town Crier
The Los Altos School District plans to have all students back on campus two days a week by Nov. 30.

The Los Altos School District, already planning a limited return of students under a waiver from the county, is now moving forward with an expanded reopening plan.

Under the waiver, only students in third grade and below were covered, plus those students most impacted by distance learning. Now, all grade levels can return.

The district intends to have all grades back by the end of November in a hybrid model, with kids on campus two days a week and working from home the remaining three. Students would be split into two groups. Group A will on campus Mondays and Tuesdays, while Group B is there Thursdays and Fridays.

Special education students enrolled in special day classes returned on Monday (Sept. 28). Special day classes are self-contained classrooms for students in special-education programs for more than half the school day. Because the classes are small and specialized, they may not return in the same cohort model as the broader grade level groups.

Transitional kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade would come back Oct. 12; second, third and seventh grade Nov. 2; and finally, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade Nov. 30.

Families would also have the choice to opt their children out of an in-person return and select a fully virtual model. Likewise, those currently enrolled in the virtual model can switch to the blended option. Monday (Sept. 28) was the deadline to switch between tracks in time for the planned return of the first-grade levels Oct. 12.

Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District

The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District previously decided to stay in remote learning through at least the first quarter, which ends Oct. 9. Superintendent Nellie Meyer said last week that the district plans to make a decision about whether to remain in distance learning for the full semester on or before a scheduled Oct. 5 board of trustees meeting.

Although a full reopening isn’t on the table yet, the district has said it’s exploring the possibility of bringing smaller cohorts of students back to campus. No hard date has been announced for their return. These cohorts were allowed even before a broader reopening became possible today.

The district is focusing on those students having the hardest time in distance learning, which may include English-language learners, students with disabilities and those who didn’t get credit for courses in the spring or are struggling now.

Once on campus, the cohorts wouldn’t receive in-person classes to replace distance learning, but instead help and supervision with their online lessons, plus the potential for other support services.

Cupertino Union School District

The Cupertino Union School District intends to stick with its plan to remain in distance learning at least for the entire first semester, which ends Jan. 8. That decision was made back in August, and Superintendent Stacy McAfee-Yao said the intent was to provide families with “something consistent, a routine schedule so that students could really delve into their learning.”

Although CUSD is committed to that plan, McAfee-Yao said administrators are looking at the possibility of bringing back small cohorts of students most impacted by distance learning before the end of the first semester. These could include students with disabilities, English-language learners, as well as the youngest students.

“We recognize there’s a need to start bringing some of our students in for those targeted services,” she said.

As for what will happen in the second semester, McAfee-Yao said a decision will be made by late November or early December at the latest.

“We are continuing to go very slow, we’re working with our unions,” she said. “No matter what, our commitment is distance learning until January.”

This article will be updated as more information becomes available from the county and local school districts.

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