Local high school students and teachers are set to return to campuses for part-time, in-person lessons starting next month, per the terms of a deal the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District struck with the teachers’ union last week.
Starting April 19, the Monday after spring break, teachers are slated to come back in a “rotating hybrid model,” according to a joint statement issued March 4 by Superintendent Nellie Meyer, district board of trustees president Fiona Walter and union president David Campbell.
“We are thrilled that we are able to bring students back,” Meyer said in an interview. “We’ve seen how they light up when they’re on campus in cohorts and (for) athletics and extracurriculars.”
The model will allow students to keep their existing teachers and classes when in-person lessons resume. Students will come to campus in either the morning or afternoon twice a week, and will have each of their periods in person once over the course of two weeks. Families also may elect to remain fully remote and still keep the same schedule and teachers.
Classes are currently all online in the MVLA district, with only small groups of students who are struggling with distance learning on campus for in-person support.
Although in-person lessons won’t resume until April 19, the district planned to start bringing students back in a “stable learning groups” model this week.
The district’s board approved the stable learning groups plan last month. Students will physically return but stay with one group all day and take online classes in a study-hall environment. The groups will be largely overseen by substitute employees the district is hiring, plus teachers who volunteer to come back.
The stable learning groups are scheduled to be in place until April 19, when teachers have agreed to return to leading in-person classes.
Union president Dave Campbell told the Midpeninsula Post, a student-run news outlet, last week that the deal was “contingent” on Santa Clara County being in the orange tier of the state’s COVID-19 framework by April 19. The county is currently in the higher-risk red tier.
Campbell retracted that statement in an interview with the Town Crier, saying it was a “mistake” to say the deal was contingent on the orange tier, and that the union is “100% focused” on reopening April 19. He said he made the error because the orange tier contingency had been internally discussed, but as case rates dropped and teachers became eligible for vaccines, it wasn’t included in the final deal.
Campbell added that he’s excited to be back on campus, and said the union is open to negotiating a broader reopening if conditions improve further.
“We are completely committed to maintaining dialogues with the district,” Campbell said. “Things could get incredibly better, and if that’s the case, we are completely open to going back to the table and expanding.”
The district has been under pressure from some parents to reopen campuses and teach students in person. Board members also have previously urged the district to reopen more broadly.
A group of parents and students had planned a protest at Los Altos High School last Friday urging the district to reopen, but it turned into a small, quasi-celebration of about 10 people, because the hybrid return deal was announced the night before.
Organizer Laura Teksler, who ran unsuccessfully for the district’s board in November, said “cautious optimism” was the term of the day for her. Although the reopening deal looked like good progress, she said parents wanted to know more specifics.
“It’s light on details right now, so we’re going to keep listening and hopefully we’ll like what we hear,” Teksler said. “If not, we’re going to continue to convey that and talk to board members.”
The initial statement announcing the agreement did not include specifics about the hybrid model’s structure. Administrators filled in some of the details in subsequent interviews, and are slated to present the plan at a board study session at 4 p.m. today.
Hybrid model details
The hybrid model would split students into two groups, with each coming to campus for half-days twice a week, distance learning administrator Teri Faught said in an interview. On Wednesdays, all students would remain at home, working largely independently. Over the course of two weeks, students would have each of their classes in person once.
During week one, Group A would come to school in the mornings on Monday and Tuesday, with Group B coming in the mornings on Thursday and Friday. All students would be at home in the afternoons.
For the second week, the schedule would flip. Group B would come in the afternoons on Monday and Tuesday, with Group A coming in the afternoons on Thursday and Friday. All students would be at home in the mornings.
School would start half an hour earlier, at 9 a.m., to accommodate longer passing periods, to make social distancing easier, and to provide an expanded lunch time, allowing for travel time to and from campus.
Students who use public transit to get to school would be given the option to stay at school for the full day, and do their online learning from campus during the half of the day that isn’t in person.
Faught said the district decided to use the half-day model because of concerns about students congregating at lunch and transmitting the virus.
“They are coming every week, twice a week. They are seeing teachers in person, Faught said. “We feel that it’s the best of both worlds – we’re keeping them safe and we’re doing the in-person teaching.”
Teachers will plan their lessons so that they can simultaneously instruct the students in front of them and those learning remotely. The students who are at home would participate in the lesson over Zoom. Those in the classroom may also sometimes join the Zoom call, Faught said, which would allow the in-person students to take part in breakout rooms, or otherwise interact, with the remote students. According to Faught, one of the priorities has been ensuring that those who opt to stay remote are treated as equally important.