To discuss the full reopening in Fall 2021, the Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Trustees held a special meeting on Thursday, April 29 to present the plan so far.
At a previous meeting, the Board decided that they would reopen fully in the. There is a lot to do.
The current safety plan will have to be updated, said Chief Business Official Mark Schiel, but they also want to make sure it’s flexible as guidance changes often.
Due to the changes they currently know about, the safety plan will be updated to include changes to mask guidance as well as social distancing and partitions (desk shields); recommendations for students eating on campus; arrival and dismissal of students; staff and student COVID testing; and quarantine guidance with vaccinated adults in mind. Schiel said they are still waiting on even more guidance from the county.
With the updated three feet social distancing guidance, staff presented some ideas for desk spacing and configurations to accommodate more students. Schiel said this was a conservative analysis.
Board Member Andy Ratermann said he didn’t quite understand the desk spacing data and would like to see it better explained. Others agreed.
Additionally, Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp said all meals for the 2021-2022 school year will be free. They will prepare for increased school meal participation with more students on campus.
There is updated guidance for transportation. Now, they can fit more students — about 52-56. Buses will be disinfected and cleaned the bus after AM/PM route instead of every run. Eligibility for district transportation will remain the same as pre-COVID.
Staff also know they may need more custodial support and additional staffing for Nutrition Services.
Long-Term Independent Study
Despite the Board’s wish to start a robust virtual academy for their students who wish to stay virtual in 2021-2022 and beyond, the District discovered that Long-term Independent Study is the only allowable virtual model per California statute. After the District’s virtual learning waiver expires in June, they cannot acquire another.
Additionally, the District cannot open a new charter school for a virtual academy this year due to Senate Bill 1505 that was passed in 2019, that doesn’t allow for new charter schools to open for virtual learning.
According to the staff’s presentation, the District’s Long-term Independent Study program’s design would use a proven virtual learning curriculum, like Edmentum or Edgenuity. The program would also use SCUSD teachers and counselors — the teachers would be dedicated to virtual.
The District currently has an Independent Study program at Wilson but it’s only for 9-12 graders. The idea would be to buff up that program to include K-8 as well.
However, Chief Academic and Innovation Officer Brad Stam said they would only really recommend Independent Study for students and their families who can handle it since it requires daily family support. The program would include weekly live virtual check-in with supervising teacher. And Independent Study students will not have access to in-school activities.
Board Clerk Bonnie Lieberman was disappointed and confused. Saying even the State Superintendent Tony Thurmond says how important flexibility is.
Board Member Jim Canova said, fine, if they have to call it “Independent Study” then they can do that, but virtual learning is the future of education and they should build a legitimate virtual academy.
“This is the future; this is now part of the educational landscape for the 21st Century and we need to do this. We need to do it now,” said Canova. “If the sign out front says ‘Independent Study’ to make Sacramento happy, sign that sign out front, but build a virtual academy.”
The Board agreed that what was presented was not enough and not what they wanted. Many hold on to hope that the state will grant flexibility to maintain a virtual option that is similar to what the District has been doing.
Board Members were worried about the students’ lack of interaction with teachers — many said they want daily interaction. They were also worried that their elementary school students wouldn’t be able to thrive in Independent Study. They want the students to have a real option — not just basically homeschooling, said Ratermann.
The District administered an interest survey for virtual learning, and they got 3,320 responses from families with 5,115 students. There were 2,778 families with 4,326 students that indicated they plan to return in-person and 505 families with 734 students who were interested in a virtual independent study option.
Additionally, staff and Board members recognized that interest in virtual learning may lessen once children can get the vaccine. They also recognize that some students may want to transfer to an in-person class from the virtual class.
Staff will come back to the May 13 meeting with more information since the Board and public had many questions and concerns. Dr. Kemp said they will continue to provide updates as they have them. She compiled a list of to-dos’ namely, finding the cost of an Independent Study program as well as what staffing will be needed, what the program options could look like, and what “housing” the Independent Learning at Wilson would mean for Wilson.
The Board appointed Vivian Rhone-Lay as the Principal of MacDonald High School and Estrella Tovar will be the Vice Principal of New Valley High School.
The Board will meet next on Tuesday, May 11 at 5:30 p.m. for a Special Board Meeting where they will talk about the budget and LCAP. Their next regular meeting is on Thursday, May 13 at 6:30 p.m.