MVLA prepares to reopen, but plans on hold as COVID cases soar

The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Trustees has started to publicly lay out the details of what a return to in-person classes could look like, but any actual reopening is now on hold because of new restrictions from the state in response to spiking COVID-19 cases.

At a board of trustees meeting last week, district administrators presented three models for potential hybrid schedules (where students are split into groups, each on campus part time) and two models for how to deliver lessons to both the students at home and on campus.

“We don’t know how long it will be or what our final recommendation will be, but we know that this plan needs to occur, recognizing that when we return, we want to be prepared,” Superintendent Nellie Meyer said at last week’s board meeting.

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that Santa Clara County is moving back into the most restrictive purple tier in the state’s COVID framework. Schools that are in the process of reopening (or have already reopened) can continue, but those that are currently closed must remain that way until the county moves out of the purple tier, and stays there for two weeks. That means MVLA is now not able to reopen campuses, the county’s media relations team confirmed in an email.

The district remains in remote learning, except for certain students most in need of added support, who have started to return in small groups. Meyer did not respond to a request for comment on the new restrictions from the state before the Town Crier’s Monday afternoon print deadline.

Last week, administrators presented data showing that the number of Ds and Fs students are receiving has spiked 86% from the same time last year. Across both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools, 2,717 Ds and Fs were given in the first quarter of this school year, compared to 1,461 during first quarter last school year.

That increase is propelled in large part by students who are entirely disengaged from online learning, Meyer said, meaning they may be failing most or all of their classes. The district is looking at ways to help these students, including the small groups that have already returned.

“The numbers for the Ds and Fs, that’s obviously very concerning,” board president Sanjay Dave said. “To me, that data almost alone shows how important it is to bring students back into the classroom.”

Staff and parents react

Teachers’ union president Dave Campbell opposed moving to a hybrid model at last week’s meeting, calling it dangerous to health, safety and academic success. Based on a survey the union sent to teachers, Campbell said that none of the district’s proposed plans were popular.

“If we’re in a hybrid model, that assumes it’s not safe for a full return. That means there are ample cases around the area,” Campbell said. “Most students in our school have six or seven classes in their schedule. That means we’ll be hosting our own super-spreader event.”

Instead he advocated for continuing distance learning, while expanding the return of small groups of students to campus.

However, some parents spoke at the meeting about the harm distance learning is causing, both academically and emotionally. One parent said she was “very concerned” by Campbell’s comments and what they mean for the possibility of reopening.

“One hundred percent safety will never be achieved,” she said. “We have to strike the right balance, and we have to think about this in the right way for the emotional safety and the emotional health of our children.”

Possible models

Although it is still unknown when in-person classes will resume, Teri Faught, the district’s distance learning administrator, presented three potential models for hybrid schedules last week.

In the first option, half the students would be on campus Mondays and Tuesdays, the other half Thursdays and Fridays. The second option would have one group on campus for a full week, then the other group in person the following week. Option three would have half the students on campus in the mornings four days a week, the other half in the afternoons. In all three models, all students would be home on Wednesdays. Although the examples split students into two groups, Faught said more groups could be used.

Faught also presented two potential teaching models, regardless of which schedule is picked. One option is to have teachers livestream the in-person lessons to the students at home, with the potential for them to ask questions or participate in discussions over video conference. The second path would be for teachers to plan lessons ahead of time for students to work on while at home.

District officials hope to gather feedback on the hybrid learning options before deciding what will work best, Faught said. The district ideally wanted to reach a tentative decision in December, Faught said in a follow-up interview, though she said that isn’t set in stone. A decision on the model also won’t determine when it will actually be put in place.

Even if hybrid learning gets underway, the district plans to continue offering its all-virtual path. Dubbed “Option B,” it is an independent study program where students take courses from an online content provider, with an MVLA teacher facilitating, but not teaching the courses.

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