LAHS students first day 2021

Students return to Los Altos High School Aug. 11, the first day of classes.

The masks may be staying on, but for the first time in nearly 18 months, the vast majority of local students are returning to school campuses for full days of face-to-face classes.

The school year started for high schoolers in the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Aug. 11, while students in the Los Altos School District are set to resume classes today. Both districts are running five full days of in-person classes each week this fall.

The Los Altos School District started offering five days of in-person classes for elementary students back in April, but junior high school students remained on a hybrid schedule in the spring, learning from home part of the week. MVLA offered four days in person starting in April, but roughly half of the student body opted to continue learning remotely.

This fall, both districts are returning to a full-time, in-person model. In accordance with a new state law, they are also offering an independent study program for families who opt to keep their children remote; both districts report that only a small number of students are planning to take part. The rest are returning to campuses full time.

“I think we are inching back toward what looks more like a normal school year,” LASD Superintendent Jeff Baier said.

Vaccination mandate

Students and staff will be required to wear masks indoors on school campuses, which is a state rule. Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced last week that teachers and other school staff will be required to be vaccinated or get tested weekly for COVID.

Both LASD and MVLA had been planning to implement a similar policy even before Newsom’s announcement. Employees will need to show proof of vaccination or submit to a weekly testing regimen.

“It’s important to protect the health and safety of everybody on campus,” Baier said in support of the vaccine mandate. “It’s in everyone’s best interests to slow the spread and transmission as much as possible.”

The “vast, vast majority” of LASD employees are fully vaccinated, Baier said, adding that he estimates the vaccination rate is well over 90%. The school district is currently in the process of compiling the exact numbers. MVLA Superintendent Nellie Meyer similarly said her district is in the process of querying staff about their vaccination status.

On the day before school began last week, Meyer said in an interview that she was more excited for this year to start than any she can remember. Because she took the helm of the high school district in the fall of 2019, she hasn’t yet experienced a year without school closures.

“I know the time and effort put into preparing and I am looking forward to seeing students,” Meyer said.

Rules requiring that students stay spaced apart are no longer in place, allowing class sizes to revert to pre-pandemic levels this fall.

Although classes will be bigger, Baier said LASD schools will still work to maximize spacing between desks and pay close attention to ventilation systems. Meyer also said MVLA would prioritize ventilation systems, and larger events will be moved outside when possible. Volunteers and visitors will also be limited on campus, Meyer said.

With COVID-19 cases rising as the delta variant continues to spread, both Meyer and Baier said they are keeping an eye on the situation. Children under 12 aren’t currently eligible to be vaccinated, but Baier said LASD’s track record of opening campuses last school year, when case rates in Santa Clara County were much higher, gives him “every confidence” the district can succeed this fall.

“We demonstrated through spikes and valleys that we can keep everyone on campus safe if we follow the protocols,” Baier said. “I am supremely confident we can operate school, because it’s critical that children are in school. It’s such an enhanced experience when students are learning in person.”

Independent study

For parents who don’t yet want their kids to return to campus, schools districts are offering independent study options in accordance with State Assembly Bill 130. Under the new law, which Newsom signed in July, school districts must provide an independent study option this school year. AB 130 also adds new requirements that independent study programs must meet.

Both MVLA and LASD are hiring outside companies to operate their independent study programs. LASD is using Stride K12, while MVLA is using Edgenuity. The online courses will be taught by teachers from the companies.

As of last week, Baier said roughly 20-25 LASD families had signed up for the independent study option. Meyer estimated approximately 40 MVLA students had picked the independent study option as of early last week.


Former Staff Writer

Zoe Morgan covered local schools as the Town Crier's education reporter.