By Stella Heo, Marisa Guerra Echeverria, and Erin Hambidge, Online Editor-in-Chief and Staff Writer
// A sea of purple washed over 41 out of 58 California counties this week after a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases spread across the state. This new development comes as many schools across Contra Costa County, including Acalanes High School, work to finalize their opening plans for early January, a timeline that may be unrealistic as cases continue to rise.
The Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) Governing Board unanimously voted on Nov. 18 to approve the revised hybrid learning model and the date for school reopening.
The Board kept students’ social and emotional wellbeing in mind along with several other values, such as bringing back the usefulness of Academy, minimizing asynchronous learning, and limiting staff and student exposure to COVID-19, as they approved the new model.
Similar to the previous hybrid learning plan set in July, students, except for those in special classes, will be split alphabetically and placed into two cohorts that come onto campus on alternating days, resulting in two days of in-person instruction and two days of virtual learning. Mondays will be fully remote, and students will meet virtually with their Cohort Academy before completing asynchronous assignments.
Unlike the current distance learning model, school will start at 8:30 a.m. every day. There will be 10-minute passing periods between 75-minute class periods to allow time for classroom sanitation and bathroom use. To minimize gathering, lunch and Academy times will be staggered with students being placed into “Academy 1” and “Lunch 2” or “Academy 2” and “Lunch 1”.
“I think [staggered times are] a really good idea. It definitely cuts down the amount of people in one place at one time. [Not seeing my friends is] not amazing, but I think I’d be able to make friends with those at my time,” junior Ava Spiegler said.
Students who choose not to return to in-person learning will be assigned to Cohort C and will follow the schedule of either Cohort A or B in a remote format. During the two days where their peers partake in in-person learning, students in Cohort C will live-stream via Zoom into their classrooms. Teachers may also replace live streaming with asynchronous activities at their own discretion, but AUHSD emphasizes that Cohort C will include synchronous instruction.
“The important thing is that you’re really starting every single period together, so it is not that you have three asynchronous Mondays like they are right now. You are starting every period together with your teachers and then it is dependent on what happens on the subject matter or what happens in that class based on the teacher’s discretion of how their class is structured,” Associate Superintendent Aida Glimme said at the meeting.
The different learning experiences that Cohort C receives factors into some students’ decisions about whether or not they will return to in-person learning.
“I’ll do the hybrid because from what I’ve heard, in order to participate in class and ask questions, you have to be there in-person… The people who are over Zoom just kind of watch the class,” senior Megan Go said.
To help students who remain in distance learning, Cohort C will have dedicated times to talk to teachers via Zoom on Mondays and Thursdays. However, prospective remote learners are unsatisfied with the current opt-in support for students remaining in remote learning.
“[The new schedule has] an extremely imbalanced system of [Cohort C] support, and I think that’s unfair because you’re, in a sense…preventing students [in remote learning] from getting the educational help that they need, when the reason that they aren’t in person could potentially be out of their control,” sophomore Joy Baker said.
Several students also pointed out that teachers will have to manage three groups at the same time in one class period.
“I think that it’s going to be hard for teachers to pay [attention] to both students in-class as well as on Zoom, especially if they’re doing a live stream because in class, you can hand out worksheets and just have students do them in class… Online, you have to prepare it, post it, hope that your students print it and complete it because you can’t monitor them as well as you can in an in-class setting,” Baker said.
Immunocompromised teachers will be allowed to teach on live stream to their classes as opposed to the District hiring long-term substitutes.
“We would allow our [immunocompromised] staff members to livestream into the classroom while we have a substitute help with the in-person supervision. So [students] would continue with the same teacher and the same preparation while there’s somebody in the classroom who’s facilitating those in-person activities,” Glimme said at the meeting.
According to the presentation shown at the Board meeting, both the in-person and fully remote models will allow students and staff to keep their current schedules as well as minimize disruption.
“I feel much better knowing that my schedule wouldn’t change whether I choose to go back or not. I really like my teachers and have gotten used to their teaching style, so I think switching it up would cause a lot of turmoil in everyone,” Spiegler said.
As of now, the expected date for in-person return is Jan. 5, but that may change due to the spike of COVID-19 cases that placed Contra Costa County into the purple tier. Although Acalanes is allowing small groups of students to come onto campus, the hybrid learning plan will not begin until the county has been in the red tier for at least two weeks and COVID-19 cases go down.
Although the District is trying to prevent COVID-19 transmissions, many students think schools will go back to distance learning because of the possible spike in cases that returning to school may cause.
“I think when we go back to school, all the teachers and students are going to be exposed to a lot more people rather than just their small group of friends, so I think it’ll actually cause an increase in cases and we’ll probably just go back to distance learning,” Go said.
Despite the unknowns in what the next months will bring, the Board still upholds a timeline based on students’ return to in-person instruction by Jan. 5. This path to reopening includes sending out declarations of intent to return, conducting parent Q&A forums, holding parent school-site informational meetings, dividing students into cohorts, and hosting a hybrid orientation.
According to the District’s current timeline, these events would take place starting late November and go into December until January. However, due to the rise of cases and the county’s purple status, the Board unanimously voted to postpone on-site meetings and reopening processes until the District maintains a two-week red status to address the community’s concerns.
“We’ve all been concerned with the rise of [COVID-19] numbers. Staff members [and] parent communities expressed increasing concerns, and we have been monitoring the public health data. We’ve been constantly following the [California Department of Public Health’s] guidelines…to make sure that when we go into the in-person, full hybrid model, that we can truly do it safely,” Glimme said at the meeting.