Town Crier File Photo The Los Altos School District's campuses have stood largely empty since schools closed in mid-March. Now, the district is charting a path forward for the fall.

The Los Altos School District is planning to start next school year with a mix of both online and in-person learning, according to a plan presented at a June 29 board of trustees meeting.

Administrators are recommending that students start the year on campus two days a week and work from home the remaining three. There also would be an option for families who don’t feel comfortable returning to school to have their students remain 100% online.

The board is set to review the proposal again at a meeting tonight (July 6). The district’s plan lays out various scenarios, ranging from entirely online to fully in-person instruction.

Superintendent Jeff Baier is recommending the board vote to start in the fall with a blended model of both on-campus and remote learning. Over the course of the year, Baier said he expects the district will shift between approaches based on the pandemic’s course.

“The goal here is to get kids back in school – that is the overarching goal,” Baier said. “That’s where we want to get, we just need to make sure we do it in a medically safe way.”

The county’s guidelines do offer latitude for bringing more students back on campus, especially at the younger grades, Baier said. The county’s focus for elementary schoolers is on maintaining stable cohorts, while for older students it is on physical distancing and face coverings. Baier said he intends to talk with the board about the potential to bring more elementary school students back on campus.

However, starting with a blended approach that involves fewer students on campus at any given time will make it easier to roll out new safety protocols, Baier said.

“We are going to be charged with enforcing and teaching our adults and children dozens of new procedures,” he said.

Parents, teachers weigh in

When the plan for blended learning was presented at the June 29 board meeting over Zoom, approximately 20 parents and teachers tuned in to offer comments, questions and concerns. They ranged from specific queries about the details of the plan to broader concerns about the overall direction for the fall.

Parent Amy Madsen said she appreciated the work administrators have put in, but was concerned about the blended approach.

“If it’s three days per week where the kids are at home, with only two hours of live interaction, I still see a lot of loneliness, I still see a high dependency on a self-service learning model, and I still see a tremendous burden or expectation of parent involvement,” Madsen said.

Teachers also raised concerns about the workload required to roll out both online and in-person instruction, as well as potential health risks for teachers interacting with many students each week.

Teacher Laurel McNeil said that a lot is being expected of teachers in a short amount of time, as they change the nature of education in a matter of months.

“I also appreciate the work that’s gone into this (plan), but I will say that it looks very optimistic and I echo the other teachers' concerns,” McNeil said. “All of those learning plans are yet to be created and they do take tremendous amounts of time to put those together.”

blended approach

The district’s recommended approach for reopening schools is based on a model of A and B rotations. Group A will be on campus Mondays and Tuesdays, while group B will come to school Thursdays and Fridays. All students will work from home on Wednesdays, as well as the two days the other group is on campus.

At the elementary school level, the two days on campus will focus on English and math, plus social-emotional learning. Classes also may work on certain hands-on science and social studies activities. However, the bulk of social studies, science, PE and special activities will be completed at home.

Junior high school students will have four periods during the days they are on campus. Seventh-graders will have English, math, a rotation of either science or social studies, and an elective. Eighth-graders will have English, math, science and social studies. Electives for eighth-graders, as well as PE for both grades, will be online. There also will be the option to take language classes or music virtually.

Parents will have the option to keep their children home, learning entirely online. If families change their minds, every six weeks there will be the chance to transition kids between online learning and the blended approach. For those choosing the blended option, siblings will be kept on the same Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday rotation.

For the days they are online, students should expect roughly two hours of live instruction each day, with the rest of their time spent working more independently. Each student will have a self-paced learning plan to guide their studies.

Some of the work to create remote lessons will be completed at the district level, in an effort to free up teachers to spend more time focusing on in-person learning. On Wednesdays, when all students are remote, teachers will be given time to prep lessons.

“We’re asking teachers to re-create the great work that they do in classrooms in a completely different format,” Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Sandra McGonagle said. “It just requires more time than they’ve needed, I would say, to do their job in the past.”

At last week’s board meeting, trustees asked questions about the plan and provided feedback. Trustee Vladimir Ivanovic said the district’s plan is a great framework, but that there are still many smaller details being worked out which have the potential to make a big impact.

“It’s clear that a huge amount of tolerance is going to be needed for us to be able to be successful,” Ivanovic said. “All I ask is for everybody to dial up the tolerance that they have.”