Governing Board Discusses Plans For Reopening Schools For 2020-2021 School Year

By Stella Heo, Online Editor-in-Chief

// With grocery store shelves filling, toilet paper hoarding declining, and community members reverting to their previous habits, many are beginning to question what the upcoming school year will look like. 

   The Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) Governing Board met yesterday at 4:30 p.m. on Zoom to discuss different methods of reopening schools for the 2020-2021 school year.

   AUHSD staff from the five district-reopening workgroups provided an update on the current planning process for the upcoming school year. 

   The update included three proposed models, schedules, and support systems for different scenarios depending on future orders regarding the return to school and the guidance of health officials.

Model 1: Closed Campus

   The first model proposes having a closed campus while utilizing distance learning. Although the plan may change, campuses would be open to a limited number of students so staff could recommend group meetings in “Academy Cohorts” to better support students during distance learning. If students cannot come on campus, the Academy Cohorts would meet virtually.

   The closed-campus model’s schedule would be in block periods adjusted from 90 minutes to 50 minutes to accommodate for the online aspect and 10-minute breaks in between. Students and staff could use Mondays for counselor meetings, optional Academy, and teacher training and collaboration. 

   If AUHSD uses the distance learning plan, student attendance would be mandatory. The district would implement Canvas, a comprehensive Learning Management System, to ensure consistent online curriculum and instruction. The district would also revisit curriculum standards and expectations to ensure all teachers consistently teach essential standards in all courses.

   Unlike the third and fourth quarter of the 2019-2020 school year, the distance learning plan includes implementing a letter grade system with teachers posting grades more frequently. Additionally, AUHSD would permit assessments, and teachers would undergo professional development to understand how to properly administer tests online. 

   AUHSD expects students to maintain academic honesty while taking assessments, but many students doubt their peers will follow the rules.

    “[Students won’t be academically honest] because there is no one to monitor students during tests or quizzes, and asking questions to the teacher might be hard due to a proper lack of communication,” rising senior Zach Biasas said.

   AUHSD staff may set up intervention strategies to support students who struggled during the fourth quarter of the 2019-2020 school year.

Courtesy Governing Board

Model 2: Blended Learning

   The second model, which the Board calls the “Blended Learning Model”, combines two days of in-person instruction and three days of virtual learning.

   To help ensure social distancing between students, the district would separate students into A and B groups, with only one group on campus at one time. However, special population courses, including English Language Development and Special Education, may not be split and would possibly meet on both group days. Additionally, certain elective courses, such as music ensembles, may not be split. Some classes, especially performing arts classes, will also use outdoor spaces for instruction.

   Period lengths would be 90 minutes long with 15-minute passing periods to allow sufficient time for classroom sanitation and restroom use. 

   Many students view the Blending Learning Model as the most favorable option.

   “With the risk of COVID-19, I would say that the hybrid learning would be the best in this situation. It would give us time to possibly see our friends and peers in-person, but also protect most people from getting the virus,” Baisas said.

   Similar to the distance learning method, students and staff would use Mondays for additional class meetings for special groups, an optional Academy, targeted intervention, testing, test make-ups, counseling, wellness meetings, staff professional development, training, and planning.

Courtesy Governing Board

Model 3: Open Campus

   The third model involves an open campus with restrictions on large gatherings. 

   “I’m totally fine with having an open campus, as long as people have the option to stay home, especially if they or their family is at risk. Everyone’s going to be hanging out outside of school anyway, so there’s really no point. The one risk would be teachers since a lot of them fall into the at-risk age group,” rising junior Katrina Ortman said.

   Some students believe many would stay home even if the school chooses the third model.

   “I think many parents will have their kids stay at home regardless of how strict policies are until a vaccine comes out,” rising junior Autumn Long said.

   The district plans to place students who cannot come on campus under a different learning model consisting of online courses, so they can maintain social distancing.

   Many students will monitor the public health situation in the coming months before determining if reopening schools is a good idea.

   “I think it really depends on how this summer goes. As everything opens up, people are being so much less careful, and if there’s a huge spike at the end of summer, I don’t think it’s a great idea [to have an open campus]. However, if we manage to keep the hospitals doing alright, I think it would be beneficial for at least some classes to come back, if not all, with safety measures, such as masks, in place,” Long said.

Additional Measures

   The Governing Board also recognized the pandemic’s potential effects on mental health, such as a decrease of motivation and an increase in stress. Due to these effects, the Board stressed the need for student-centered activities, in-person mental health services, and consistent routines and structure.

   AUHSD also plans on implementing universal emotional screening for students and having a social-emotional curriculum in classrooms, which would center around topics such as community-building, self-awareness, and self-regulation. AUHSD will also incorporate spaces to address grief, loss, and racial issues.

   Some students criticized AUHSD noting that the district should have incorporated emotional support systems earlier.

   “By now, people have probably found most of their coping mechanisms, if they have at all, and not that I don’t support supporting mental health, but it seems a little late to put new support systems in,” Long said.

   The school and district offices will also have physical protective measures in certain areas, such as plexiglass in offices and food service areas, to prevent COVID-19 transmissions. Offices will also remove furniture to discourage crowding and will place markers to encourage physical distancing.

   In addition to the physical changes, AUHSD will implement routine changes in school and district offices. The offices will no longer use paper passes and will change sign in and sign out procedures. To prevent crowding, the offices will also limit the number of students and parents coming in.

   The district plans to focus on cleaning and using personal protective equipment, especially for foodservice programs, which will provide grab-and-go meals to students as an essential part of the school day.

   Food programs will no longer use cash and will install scanners for student IDs, instead. AUHSD is also exploring pre-order apps to eliminate cash handling entirely. 

   To optimize indoor air quality, facilities will install better filters into their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems during the summer. Staff will receive a document explaining the best practices for optimal air quality by August 1.

   The district will also begin health screening and monitoring. Students and teachers must take their temperature and check for any COVID-19 symptoms before leaving for school. In cases of illness, students must be fever-free without medication for 24 hours before returning to school. Students tested for COVID-19 should inform their school nurse.

   However, many students question the effectiveness of these health policies. 

   “I think students might brush it off and think, ‘oh, I don’t feel like I have a fever, I’m fine’, but I also know other students who would do it very seriously and well. I think if they wanted to implement that policy, for it to actually be effective, they would need to take everyone’s temperatures as they enter the school in the morning,” Long said.

   AUHSD plans to implement a sick room area for ill students at every site, and teachers will receive guidance for monitoring student symptoms.

   The district is currently developing contact tracing, closure, and cleaning protocols for positive COVID-19 cases on campus in partnership with Contra Costa County Health Services. In the event of a positive case on campus, AUHSD plans on notifying parents and district staff while maintaining student privacy.

Plans for Sports and Extracurricular Activities

   The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) will release guidelines for fall sports on July 20. The CIF currently prohibits contact sports. 

   Many student-athletes hope to play next year but understand the importance of safety.

   “I really hope that sports will happen next year. I miss playing and I hope while playing everyone stays safe,” rising junior and varsity volleyball player Tommy Bieker said.

   Meanwhile, extracurricular activities can meet on Mondays, and performing arts students must practice outside while maintaining social distancing. 

   Some students view the extracurricular policy as a safe way to interact with their peers.

   “Many of the on-campus clubs get small numbers of people at each meeting – less than a normal class size – so I think they should still meet. Additionally, clubs give students a sense of community within the broader Acalanes community, which would be helpful in these times,” Long said.

   Some larger clubs, such as Key Club, plan to meet in smaller groups.

   “I think we just have to make sure we are following social distancing guidelines during meetings and only volunteer in small groups. Also, we have to choose events that aren’t around seniors or anyone at risk,” rising junior Key Club Vice President Aerik Kunju said.

   The district wants to ensure student and staff safety, high-quality education, social-emotional well-being, access and equity, and support and intervention, while minimizing the disruption to the community.

   The Board will not present a finalized reopening plan because public health orders and restrictions remain fluid. Instead, the Board aims to revisit the plans at a special meeting on July 14 to share and discuss more specific planning.

Click here for the Board’s slides from their meeting!

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