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District considerations for school opening or continuing distance learning in the fall

Three possibilities for returning to school on Aug. 12 have arisen as Santa Clara County continues to make decisions regarding COVID-19 and student safety. Continuing distance learning in full, a mixed approach including both school from home and classroom learning, and returning to campus permanently with health regulations are all options the district is considering, while complete distance learning is the most probable as of now.

“With the information we have today, it is likely that we will be coming back with distance learning,” Superintendent Dr. Nellie Meyer said. “We are preparing and working toward getting ready for distance learning.”

According to Meyer, the Santa Clara County Office of Education has asked all of the districts to explore three methods of reopening. The mixed approach would be distance learning with some opportunities for students to do activities at school in small groups, such as science labs or small math classes. The district currently has teams of people, including content expert teachers, forming considerations for if and when a mixed approach is appropriate.

“If restrictions are loosened up then we have a strong foundation to add in opportunities for students to come back to campus,” Meyer said. 

The school board gathers at a meeting earlier this year. They, along with superintendent Nellie Meyer, are the main decision-makers regarding the whether or not to return to in-person school in the fall.

According to Sanjay Dave, President of the Board of Trustees, a possible schedule for mixed learning could include alternating days with in-class and online learning. There would be two groups of students alternating days so only half of the student body would be on campus at one time. 

Acknowledging that some classes do more activities that require a classroom, a blended approach would look different for different classes. For example, science classes that do labs and dissections would be prioritized so students would not miss out on that experience. 

However, a staggered schedule raises some concerns. At high school, students move around to six or seven different classrooms, with six or seven different teachers a day. Many students take public transportation, so the amount of exposure high school students get is much larger than an elementary school student, who stays in the same classroom with the same group of peers all day. 

If restrictions are loosened up then we have a strong foundation to add in opportunities for students to come back to campus

While COVID-19 is considered less dangerous for teenagers, many district teachers are in or close to the at-risk category, based on their age.

“We need to make sure that we’re not only protecting our students but also protecting our teachers,” David Campbell, President of the District Teachers Association, said.

According to Campbell, the district’s focus right now is distance learning. Ninety percent of their energy is going into online school, and making sure that “students are not receiving a toned down education.”

“We want to be able to provide the best instruction for the best students, which is what MVLA students are,” Campbell said. 

Superintendent Nellie Meyer.

According to Meyer, there are teams of people speculating on how to improve online school for teachers and students. The teams are discussing different options for things such as professional development, curriculum, facilities, and scheduling. According to Dave, the teams are figuring out the best ways to do distance learning for everyone, and some of the focuses are courses such as special education, art classes, and physical education. 

“We’re working really hard to provide a robust online learning experience for the students with the hope that we don’t have to use it,” Campbell said.

According to Campbell, small populations of people may be let back on campus as part of the hybrid opening. For example, students with preexisting health conditions who wouldn’t have to intermingle with a lot of people. 

The district is looking to provide additional distance learning related training for teachers. According to Meyer, they are trying to make training available during summer and the professional development days before school starts in August. They are also discussing how continued support could be provided throughout the year. According to Dave, they are receiving feedback from the teacher’s association about what kind of training they need. According to Campbell, the board has been very supportive with whatever the teachers need. 

We need to make sure that we’re not only protecting our students but also protecting our teachers

“The feedback I’ve been receiving from the district has been spectacular,” Campbell said. “They’ve been very very clear that they want to provide the resources that staff need to deliver quality education to our students.”

According to Campbell, course teams meeting over the summer is a possibility. 

“This process has been incredibly collaborative and the district, teachers, and the rest of the staff have been working hand in hand to make sure that we provide the best education for our students,” Campbell said.

Other local high schools like Palo Alto High School have released plans for alternating days. According to their school newspaper, the proposed schedule includes two groups of students, alternating days on campus, and one teacher work day. 

Sara Cody, public health director of Santa Clara County, gives information on COVID-19 restrictions and risks. Her department has and will continue to dictate the standards necessary to reopen schools.

A lot of determinations rely on the guidance of the Santa Clara Health Department, and according to Dave, the district is working with them to create a plan that supports the health and safety of students and staff. Periodic testing is something the district is considering, though even if they are able to get testing, they are unsure as to whether it will be enough to protect students and staff.

One of Dave’s personal goals is to, “have school and be confident that no harm will come to anyone after school.”

The entire district is hoping to return to on site learning as soon as possible according to Meyer because “we have such strong learning communities, and while we are going to work very hard to provide a strong distance learning program, it really cannot replace the communities that are built in every classroom, and on our campuses.”

Although health and safety of students and staff is the first priority, according to Dave, construction and stadium light acquisition is continuing, “in hopes that we will be able to have games on Friday nights, and enjoy sports outside, marching band, and all the other activities.”

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