We’re ready to welcome back students, said Santa Clara Unified School District staff. However, the Board of Trustee members and community asked if more could be done to welcome back even more students in the Spring and reduce the waitlist.
Reopening of Schools
Santa Clara County is now in the Orange Tier which officially kicks off reopening for the District. Campuses will start welcoming students back on Monday, March 29. The students will be welcomed back over the next two weeks.
At the Board meeting on Thursday, March 25, Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp said that the CDC has updated their guidance saying that schools can do three feet instead of six feet social distancing. Dr. Kemp said they will consider this for Fall, but this doesn’t change their reopening for Spring since the six-foot decision is already in the Board-approved safety plan and in the MOU with the labor unions. This plan is also what the District submitted to the State. If it were to be changed, the District would have to take it back to the Board and renegotiate with the labor unions and then resubmit to the state. Dr. Kemp says it’s best to focus on implementing what they have.
The current MOU with the labor unions expires in June.
After rounds of discussion amongst the Board and community members who called into the meeting, the consensus grew that the District and labor unions should revisit discussions in light of the new health guidelines — namely the three-foot change that would allow more students into a classroom and significantly lower the waitlist.
Board Member Albert Gonzalez said he understands everyone’s frustrations and thinks changes can be made while they focus on bringing students back. “When data changes I think that’s something we have to take into account,” said Gonzalez. “I could tell you the MOU was approved by a 7-0 vote so I understand that people may have differing views, we can’t rehash what happened in the past and we have to move forward. And in moving forward, we have an opening plan here that we’re moving forward with, but I would ask the Superintendent… just to ask our associations to look at recent data and see if we can make some changes.
“Next week, full steam ahead let’s do what we already have planned, but I think we can do things in parallel too,” continued Gonzalez. “Things change, we have to be somewhat flexible.”
Gonzalez made the motion. He asked Dr. Kemp to go back to labor groups to address MOU based on CDC and California Department of Public Health’s updated recommendations regarding education and the pandemic. The Board made it clear that they wanted everything on the table, but namely the three-foot social distancing change. The motion passed unanimously.
Additionally, Board Vice President Vickie Fairchild made a motion asking the District to evaluate waitlist numbers at each school site. She asked them to find ways to reduce the waitlist numbers at each site and provide an explanation about what is done to reduce them and why some waitlists are so high. This motion also passed unanimously.
In other reopening updates, Assistant Superintendent Kevin Keegan said that most if not all school staff are on track to get their second dose of the vaccine after some hiccups. He said that if you need help getting your vaccine to contact him. He also added that they have the onsite, no-cost monthly asymptomatic testing sites set up at 15 locations.
Keegan shed light on the hiring challenges the District is having. He says they’ve hired a few substitutes here and there, but they still need to do more hiring. Openings are listed on EDJOIN.
Chief Academic and Innovation Officer Brad Stam said they have expanded extended care for students returning to campus. They were able to open up 133 additional spots (now 235 total) by increasing cohort size and adding classrooms — they are allowed to do the three-foot distancing. Stam added that the YMCA is expanding cohorts starting on Monday. They are also partnering with Sports for Learnings to secure spots for 216 more students; they will be opening six classrooms April 5 and six more April 19.
According to Stam, they are putting an emphasis where the waitlist is the longest. The waitlist for returning to campus has been reduced from 276 to 174 and they are hoping for additional improvements over the next few days.
Mark Schiel, the District’s Chief Business Official, said that PPE has been delivered and distributed, shields are up and there are more if needed, and signage is ready and getting updated as needed. Additionally, new tech has been installed in the classrooms. MERV 15 air filters that were installed at the sites are due to be changed so that’s in the plans for the coming weeks.
Schiel also wanted to remind families that weekly nutrition services will switch from Wednesdays to Mondays starting March 29.
Fall Full Opening of Schools
The Board decided to commit to a full reopening in Fall 2021. In a motion made by Board Member Andy Ratermann, the Board voted unanimously to commit now to give families enough time to plan for the Fall. Consideration for a virtual learning academy option is also included in the motion.
District staff presented a proposed timeline that would have brought the Fall reopening plan back to them in late May, but the Board all said the timeline was too long. They asked if staff could scale the timeline down and get the plan back to the Board sooner.
“I would like to see the proposed timeline shortened, to the extent that some of the focus groups and surveys can be removed,” said Board Member Bonnie Lieberman. “I think we need to see a draft reopening plan before the end of May. I think that’s too late.”
The Board Members agreed that they want to focus on being nimble as things change often. While things do tend to change, staff cautioned that if the CDC’s existing three-foot rule continues, they may not be able to welcome back every student who wants to return.
Staff also described different virtual learning options including Long Term Independent Study and starting a District Virtual Academy.
Lieberman advocated for a robust virtual academy saying independent study wouldn’t get the job done. Board President Jodi Muirhead agreed saying they should survey the parents to see interest — not collect commitments to virtual learning just yet — and also use their own teachers instead of outsourcing.
Fairchild made a motion asking staff to perform an evaluation using CDC guidelines of how many students the schools can hold. The motion died without a second since the other Board Members and Dr. Kemp said that they will be doing an evaluation anyway due to the commitment to open fully. Dr. Kemp said that once they get everything settled for reopening on Monday, they can begin on preparations for Fall, including collecting and providing the data Fairchild requested.
Learning Recovery Plan
Before the Board adjourned, they heard a presentation about learning loss and recovery. District staff has put together the recovery plan that has three components “Reconnect, Re-engage and Recover” — R3. The plan outlines the next six months as the District returns to in-person instruction.
Staff touched on the areas of concern like school connectedness, social emotional learning and academics.
Stam shared some data points on how their students have performed this year. For example, 22 percent of secondary students have failed one or more classes — a 7 percent increase over the last year. For economically disadvantaged students and homeless students, they are showing double-digit gains. There is a doubling of the total number of failing grades meaning there are many students with multiple Fs.
Additionally, in K-5, the number of students not reading at grade level has increased 8 percent to a total of 39 percent. The numbers are again worse for economically disadvantaged and homeless students as well as students with IEPS.
“These numbers are a call to action and a focus for our R3 plan,” said Stam.
Fairchild asked for a resolution to be put on a future agenda: Resolution for Standing Up for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and Leading Students in the Fight Against Racism. The Board agreed to have it come back.
The Board approved April as Autism Awareness Month, Public Schools Month, Volunteer Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Because the meeting was running late, the Board had to again table the First Reading of CSBA Recommended October 2020 and December 2020 Updates to Board Policies till their next meeting.
The Board will meet again on Thursday, April 8 at 6:30 p.m.