MVLA board moves toward reopening

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Town Crier File Photo
Mountain View High School sits largely empty as students take classes online.

After nearly a year of remote learning, the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District approved a preliminary plan last week to bring students back to campus once the county is out of the state’s highest risk COVID-19 tier.

The plan would bring students physically back to campus part-time, but in-person instruction wouldn’t resume and classes would remain online. Students would remain with one “stable learning group” all day, working in a “study hall” environment and logging into their virtual classes, according to the plan.

The district has budgeted $1.25 million for the proposal, which assumes it would run for 12 weeks. Although board trustees approved the plan, they urged the district to come up with a broader reopening proposal that could be implemented this school year.

“We talked about hybrid models back in November, and now this looks like a step back from what was being discussed back then,” trustee Sanjay Dave said at a board study session last week.

“Hybrid” models generally refer to plans where instruction is offered both in person and online, like the Los Altos School District has implemented. MVLA administrators said bringing students back to campus to complete their online lessons is just the first step in phasing in a full return, and that it will help increase student motivation and provide a structured environment for learning.

“They still will be, at this point, Zooming into their classes,” distance learning administrator Teri Faught said. “This is not in-person teaching. This is a learning hub.”

The district is only allowed to reopen campuses when the county is out of the highest-risk purple tier for five days. MVLA would have to get its plan approved by county health officials before it can be implemented.

The intent is to phase students back in over the course of three weeks, starting with seniors. By week three, each grade level would be back on campus one day per week, with everyone at home on Wednesdays. Students would also have the option to opt-out of returning and continue with fully remote schooling.

Some board members pushed the district to reopen further, and find a model that would allow students to rotate between their classes, rather than staying in one classroom.

Superintendent Nellie Meyer said the biggest factor limiting reopening is having enough staff willing to supervise students.

The teachers’ union has objected to past suggestions of using a hybrid instruction model. Last week, union president Dave Campbell said he hopes the district’s current plan will allow teachers to continue teaching remotely, while he also recognized that some teachers may be “excited” to get back into the classroom.

The district is currently trying to hire substitute employees to monitor groups of returning students. Parents are particularly encouraged to apply. The pay is $225 per six-hour day. Teachers also can opt to supervise students during their prep periods, when they don’t have their own classes. They would be paid $120 per 75-minute period.

The $1.25 million budget for the “stable learning groups” plan includes these costs, as well as other expenses, such as buying students headsets and paying for additional custodial support.

The district does not anticipate that it will have to dip into its reserves, instead using its operating budget, as well as extra money the government has allocated because of the pandemic, Associate Superintendent of Business Services Mike Mathiesen said.

The board initially approved the $1.25 million budget, but not the “stable learning groups” plan, wanting the district to come up with something more expansive. That vote passed 4-1, with board president Fiona Walter dissenting, arguing that the plan itself needed to also be passed.

After further discussion, the board voted unanimously to pass the plan, but with the caveat that they would schedule another study session for the last week of February to discuss other reopening options. If the county moves out of the purple tier before that meeting, the district will move forward with the existing plan, otherwise the district will look at other paths forward.

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