Local high schools won’t be resuming in-person classes until January at the earliest, the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District formally announced Thursday (Oct. 1).
The district plans to stay in distance learning for the full first semester, at a minimum. No return date has been determined.
“We made this decision with the health and safety of our staff and students at the forefront,” Superintendent Nellie Meyer wrote in a letter to families Thursday night.
She went on to list a number of reasons behind the decision, including the difficulty of maintaining social distancing with thousands of students and the risk of virus transmission when students rotate between classes. Meyer was not available for an interview before the Town Crier’s press deadline.
Schools were allowed to begin reopening Sept. 23, because the county had managed to stay out of the state’s highest COVID-19 risk tier for two weeks. Although broad reopenings are permitted, districts have varied widely in their plans.
Some are staying remote for the foreseeable future, while others have already begun reopening. The Los Altos School District brought small groups of special-education students back to campuses this week, and plans to have transitional kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade students return to campus in a hybrid model starting Oct. 12, with all grade levels back part time by the end of November.
Reopening a high school district like MVLA poses difficulties not faced by K-8 districts like LASD, MVLA Board of Trustees President Sanjay Dave said in an interview Friday. Any school reopening is required to follow county and state health guidelines, which differ by grade level.
For lower grades, the county guidance centers on ensuring stable groups, while for older students, who generally have multiple periods throughout the day, the focus is on maintaining physical distancing and using face coverings.
One particular challenge to resuming in-person classes, Dave said, is that the county requires student desks to be at least 6 feet apart at the middle school and high school level. At the elementary level, desk spacing is supposed to be maximized, with “ideally 6 feet or more” of space, but it isn’t a requirement.
At roughly 30 students per class, there just isn’t space in the room to maintain 6 feet between desks, Dave said. The only apparent solution is to split students into multiple groups and stagger the days and times they are on campus. Although the district may end up using this type of hybrid approach, Dave said they would have to ensure it meets state requirements for instructional time.
“We have to put all that together and create a hybrid solution that works, (and) that also educates our kids to the level that we expect them to be educated,” he said.
Ultimately, Dave said he believes the county needs to provide “much more practical guidance at the high school level” about what reopening should look like. The current county guidance doesn’t differentiate between which of the state’s four COVID-19 risk tiers the county is in.
Even though the district is planning to stay remote through the semester, Dave confirmed that administrators are still moving forward with plans to bring back limited cohorts of students who face the toughest time in distance learning. Those groups may come back to campus this semester.
Although the decision to stay remote for the first semester was made at the administrative level, rather than through a formal board vote, Dave said he has requested to see a timeline for when reopening decisions will be made at a board meeting scheduled for Monday evening (Oct. 5).
He added that by the end of November, he wants the district to make a tentative decision on when to reopen, though he acknowledged that the pandemic’s shifting nature means plans need to be flexible.
As for the status of negotiations with employee unions and whether enough teachers and staff are on board for an eventual wider reopening, Dave directed questions to the superintendent.