By Stella Heo and Shrida Pandey, Online Editor-in-Chief and Online News Editor
// Instead of soaking up the summer sun, many Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) students, parents, and staff already look ahead to what the 2020-2021 school year will be like in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AUHSD Governing Board met yesterday at 6 p.m. via Zoom to give updates on reopening schools for the 2020-2021 school year and voted unanimously to open the school year with distance learning.
At the previous June 17 meeting, AUHSD administration presented three proposed models for the upcoming school year: closed campus, blended learning, and open campus to the Board. Yesterday, the district shared the refined plans of the models and elaborated on the remote learning option for students opting for distance learning.
Although the Board voted for full distance learning, the district believes it is possible for all three scenarios to be encountered during the upcoming school year
“We have been preparing since the last day of school for all three of those scenarios to occur on day one or at any time of the school year so that we don’t have to be in emergency mode at any point of the school year, and we can be ready,” Associate Superintendent Aida Glimme said during the meeting.
Open/Restricted Instructional Model
One of the models, “Open or Open/Restricted Learning,” allows school campuses to be open with restrictions on large gatherings. However, AUHSD believes that under the current health guidelines, this model is not possible.
“Based on our classrooms and number of students in our classrooms, we do not feel we can meet the physical distancing requirements with all of our students on campus at the same time,” Glimme said.
However, the district hopes the open campus model will be possible in the future because the district found it to be the best learning instructional model for students. Full reopening will be considered at determined checkpoints and will be in accordance with guidelines from Contra Costa Health Services, California Department of Education, State Health Department, and Contra Costa County Office of Education.
Blended Learning Model
The second model, “Blended” or “Hybrid Learning,” includes two days of in-person instruction and three days of virtual learning with 85-minute class periods and 15-minute passing periods for classroom sanitation and bathroom use.
Students will be split into A and B groups by alphabetical order, and the groups will alternate class meeting days.
“This would allow fewer students on campus, which would allow us to implement that physical distancing and fewer interactions between our staff and our students so that we can be safer. We can implement our safety procedures,” Glimme said.
However, special population courses, such as English Language Development and Special Education, may not be split and may meet on both cohort days.
“We have classes already that are small in sizes that we could actually offer on both days, so we would like to look at that [and] offer them to meet on both cohort days to increase their in-classroom time,” Glimme said.
Additionally, some elective courses, such as music ensembles, may not be split.
Activities for the three distance learning days will depend on teachers’ plans. Students will not have synchronous learning because the teacher will be instructing the other half of the class.
Unlike the second semester of the 2019-2020 school year, attendance will be taken daily both in-person and online. Also, teachers and the administration will monitor student engagement, and weekly reports will be developed.
“We have to take attendance daily. Students who are in the classroom will take attendance and [for] students who are participating in distance learning, there will be attendance taken in some form as well. We will also have to monitor student engagement. That is a new legal requirement, which we are really excited and supportive of,” Glimme said.
Alternative Online Learning Option
AUHSD plans to survey all families this week to assess the number of students who can not return for in-person instruction due to medical conditions or other exemptions. Students who are exempt from in-person learning will receive fully online instruction.
For exempt students, the district is considering alternative online programs, such as Fuel Education and UC Scout, that align with the district’s standards. Fuel Education is the current online course provider for independent study, and UC Scout offers limited courses that depend on the district’s needs. AUHSD expects both programs to require teachers to personalize and enhance these programs.
“We would need to look at how we’re monitoring our students, how the attendance is taken, and how we are providing the support to the students if they are not doing well,” Glimme said.
Closed Campus/Distance Learning Model
The third model, “Distance Learning,” refers to instruction with students and teachers in different locations. Both staff and students will use online programs, such as Canvas, a learning management system that will replace School Loop, and Zoom, during the school day to facilitate teaching, learning, and communication.
Although distance learning does not traditionally include in-person instruction, the district is considering some opportunities for small group meetings for students that follow health guidelines.
Monday could be used for staff development, optional Academy offerings, and teacher training. The rest of the week will be online learning with 60-minute class periods and 15-minute breaks in between.
“When we looked at the distance learning schedule, some of the strong feedback that came in from our staff and parents and students when we were surveying is that the schedule [the traditional block schedule] doesn’t necessarily work or translate for online learning. So we needed to adjust that learning for distance learning schedule,” Glimme said.
The district will also assign students into cohorts to attend Virtual Academy every morning from 9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. to receive support and targeted instruction for their distance learning.
“We do want those teachers that are in charge of those cohort students to see if those students are engaged and report to [the district] if they’re not engaged or follow up with the students on how we can support them for their engagement,” Glimme said.
Due to Virtual Academies and extended break periods, classes will end at 3:15 p.m.
Unlike the second semester of the 2019-2020 school year, student attendance and completion of all assignments will be mandatory. Also, students will have letter grades instead of credit or no credit.
Students will also be invited to campus regularly for in-person learning opportunities in small groups. Because the district noticed that distance learning was challenging for many students, schools will implement regular monitoring and develop support systems.
AUHSD plans to survey all students and families for technology needs, including device and network access. Schools will also provide on-campus spaces for students to access technology and online support.
Sports and Extracurriculars
The California Interscholastic Foundation (CIF) will publish guidelines for fall sports on July 20. CIF currently prohibits contact sports. Contra Costa County Health Services predicts that contact sports will not be allowed any time in the near future, meaning contact sports, such as football, will not be possible.
AUHSD plans to implement clubs and extracurricular school activities based on public health guidelines.
The Board voted unanimously to use distance learning during the beginning of the first semester. They stressed that plans could change throughout the year, and they will assess the situation again on Sept. 2 for the potential transition to blended learning.
Click here to access the Board’s slides.