By Marisa Guerra Echeverria, Staff Writer
// As schools approach nearly an entire year of Zoom meetings, asynchronous school work, and a lack of in-person instruction, recent Contra Costa County COVID-19 updates may signal hope for a return to in-person learning.
The Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) Governing Board recently provided an update on the county’s COVID-19 status during their meeting on Feb. 3, projecting a possible return to in-person learning in early March.
Previously, the Board set up a timeline to transition to hybrid learning by the beginning of the second semester but could not do so because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases during the winter holidays. The district now looks to follow the California Department of Health’s (CDPH) newly updated School Reopening Framework to reopen AUHSD schools safely in the red tier.
“[According to the CDPH] our schools may not reopen for grades 7 to 12, which is us, if the county is in a purple tier if we have not reopened previously, which we haven’t… And when we reach that red tier, we must be in that red tier for five consecutive days prior to providing in-person instruction,” Associate Superintendent Aida Glimme said at the meeting.
The red tier requires a daily case rate of seven or fewer new cases per 100,000 people, a testing positivity rate of eight percent or less, and an equity metric of less than eight percent. Currently, Contra Costa County qualifies for two out of the three requirements, with a testing positivity rate of 6.5 percent and a submitted targeted equity investment plan with a metric of 10.1 percent.
Despite these advancements, as of Feb. 5, the county stands at a case rate of 26.6 and does not meet the necessary case rate of seven to qualify for the red tier. However, the district projects it will reach the desired case rate by Feb. 13 and have red tier status by Feb. 23.
During the five days the county will take to maintain its red tier status, the district will set up a timeline to prepare AUHSD schools for hybrid learning with in-person student orientations and in-school staff development.
“We will utilize [the week leading up to hybrid] to offer one professional development day to kick it off, four days of student training and in-person orientations, which will be [during a week of] asynchronous instruction, and another professional development day,” Glimme said.
As a result of these changes, some students worry the transition to hybrid learning will cause a loss in instruction time, especially with time-sensitive Advanced Placement (AP) classes.
“Now that we’ve been given a new schedule [in distance learning] where we see our teachers in class for [a shorter amount of time] than the usual 90 minutes, I think every class period is sort of sacred,” sophomore Jou Yoshida said. “So I think even losing four or five days [of synchronous instruction] will have a really big impact, especially since it is spring semester. A lot of teachers have to start thinking about AP tests and [if they will] be able to make sure we know everything we need to know well enough for those tests.”
Many students are also skeptical of the district’s projection for March given the current state of the pandemic and the recent lifting of the shelter-in-place orders in the county.
“The 26 to seven [case rate jump] just feels like a lot, and I think the behavior of people in our community isn’t going to substantially change in the next few months. I think people are going to continue to socialize vaguely at the level they have been, if not more, now that the stay-at-home order was lifted. So I don’t see any reason why it would drop that significantly and that fast [for the hybrid starting date],” senior Megan Baginski said.
While the transition to hybrid learning worries some students, other prospective hybrid learners are excited to receive in-person instruction.
“I was hoping for us to be back as early [as March 2] but I don’t think I was really expecting it. I was probably expecting us to not be able to go to school until the fall… I’m excited to see people and actually be able to be in a classroom,” sophomore Laura Bea said.
In addressing these perspectives, the district reinforced the idea that the return date is a moving target that depends on the state of the pandemic in the coming weeks.
“I am just [going] to remind us that we are going to project some dates here for planning purposes, but it is really dependent on many variables, like human behavior, or unknown [COVID-19] variant spreads, or implications of vaccinations… So we are going to do our best to project, and that is really what it is: a projection,” Glimme said.