From Independent Study’s rough start to big changes at Adult Education to voting rights debates, Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Trustees had a packed meeting on Thursday, Sept. 9.
Mark Schiel, Chief Business Official, shared changes to COVID-19 safety guidance. Now, masks are required for indoor sports and other extracurricular activities, with some exceptions. If masks or going outside isn’t an option, they can do weekly testing. Schiel said they will be in compliance by Sept. 27. Additionally, contact tracing now includes indoor contact as well as outdoor contact, which SCUSD was already doing. Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp said they are now updating the COVID-19 dashboard twice daily.
The weekly COVID-19 testing had a rough start as there are staff shortages. However, Dr. Kemp said this was just the first week and they’re working on solutions. Schiel also said they are considering adding more days and possibly more sites.
Training is coming for staff, namely around the correct use of Facilitron to check in at school sites.
When the Board decided to bring students back full time, they also wanted to have a virtual version and that option was also mandated by AB130. But the only way was to provide an Independent Study program, which the District already had for high schoolers.
Kathie Kanavel, Assistant Superintendent of Education Services, gave an update on how the program is doing. Currently, there are 270 students enrolled, teachers have an average class size of 20 for Grades K-5 and 27 for Grades 6-8. They are still experiencing staffing gaps but teachers on special assignment (TOSAs) are stepping in until they can hire more teachers.
Kanavel gave insight into expectations and instructional minutes. For TK-3, they are required to have synchronous instruction once per day, which is a lesson by a teacher. For Grades 4-8, they get daily live interaction, not instruction, and then synchronous instruction once per week. For Grades 9-12, they have a minimum of synchronous instruction once per week, and the rest is asynchronous. She that the teachers are doing what is required and more but they hope to supplement with even more time.
Families went through intake meetings and signed a Master Agreement when they entered the program acknowledging that a parent needs to be with the student the whole time and helping them and the students would be mostly on their own with the curriculum, However, Kanavel says she understands the confusion on instructional minutes.
Board President Jodi Muirhead said she’s concerned how often they hear from parents about how they thought Independent Study was going to be like last year’s distance learning.
“Understand that we were implementing those intake meetings really quickly to get students started,” said Kanavel. “What people have in their mind is what we did last year and it’s not that and it can’t be that.”
She went on to say that these new teachers were dealing with larger classes, but now things have settled down.
“Now that we’re sort of settled, we can go back and be very clear about what the program is,” said Kanavel. “I don’t fault anybody because it’s been a crazy time. So, it’s just about continuing to try to work together, communicate and see what we can do to meet the needs of all the students as best we can and hope that eventually we can have them all back in person.”
There was a mix of positive and negative feedback from the community regarding the program.
The Board asked for more updates at future meetings.
Carrie Casto, Principal of Adult Education, and Mireya Sanchez-Palmada, TOSA, shared an update about Independence Network and the new program they are working on.
While developing their new program, they hit encountered a problem. Casto learned that they had been providing personal care to their students without being a licensed facility and had been since 1990. They got a violation from Community Care Licensing and had to stop providing personal care services which cleared up the violation.
This means that students must provide their own caregiver or hope to be assigned one by San Andreas Regional Center (SARC). Casto said they would not be perusing licensing because their attorneys said they would have to meet additional requirements like staffing, facilities, and training and that the 1-3 ratio would not be sustainable. Independence Network has never been fiscally viable, said Joan Forte, President of the Friends of Independence Network.
Casto and Sanchez-Palmada said they have tried to get creative to find solutions and have been putting a lot on pressure on SARC, but the system is very slow.
The Board was very concerned about the students would now be left out.
“We have about half the population of the program that looks like it’s going to be disenfranchised because they’re not going to come up with caregivers on their own,” said Board Member Andy Ratermann. “And I’m particularly worried about those individuals. They might be staying in a group home where their resources are so limited, that’s never gonna happen so they’re disenfranchised… I’d like to see us find a solution.”
Ratermann made a motion to bring back a report on what it would take to get licensed, the cost for caregivers without a license, what staff recommendations are, and if they can reach out to a county supervisor for help available there. This passed unanimously.
Vision 2035 Consultant
Vice President Vickie Fairchild pulled a Consultant Agreement with Nichols Strategy for Vision 2035 communications off the consent calendar.
Dr. Kemp said that the District’s public information team needs help and that they had asked for assistance with 2035 communications so they can focus on their day-to-day work.
Fairchild said this is not the time for the District to be doing 2035 PR and that it is starting to become a joke. Fairchild and some members of the public said they are disappointed that the District is spending time and resources on Vision 2035 when they are facing so many issues right now.
However, Board Member Albert Gonzalez pointed out they the Board constantly says that if staff needs help they should ask, and that’s what their public information team has done. Some from the community agreed, saying that they can’t put everything on the back burner because of COVID-19.
The consultant agreement passed 4-3, with Board Members Jim Canova, Gonzalez, and Dr. Michele Ryan, and Board President Jodi Muirhead voting yes. Fairchild and Board Members Bonnie Liberman and Ratermann voted no.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Board held its first pre-map public hearing. The District is changing its election system from the current from-district and multi-member trustee area system to a new by-district system. The current system violates the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), and this move to by-district elections protects them from lawsuits.
District Counsel, Jonathan Salt from Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost LLP, announced that the new census data is late but will finally be available on Sept. 20 and then they can start drawing the maps.
Board Members shared some thoughts about Trustee Areas, for example, that they should consider keeping Alviso and San Jose areas together and that Sunnyvale should have a designated Trustee. There is another pre-map meeting on Thursday, Sept 23 where the community can share more thoughts on the maps.
Back in February, the Board gave direction that they wanted to remain and seven-member Board and not reduce to five members. Apparently, that wasn’t good enough because the discussion was rehashed on Thursday night.
Canova said he wished they could ask the community to decide between seven and five members, saying this wasn’t a Board decision. However, Salt explained the complications with waiting for the community’s decision, which could leave the District in danger of being sued.
A motion to remain a seven-member board passed 5 to 2, with Canova voting no and Dr. Ryan agreeing with him.
Schiel gave a presentation on the Unaudited Actuals Report. The main ask from staff was for the Board to commit $1 million for future technology replacement.
The $1 million for technology and the Unaudited Actuals Report both passed unanimously.
As the meeting neared midnight, an item about whether Independent Study students would be able to return to their school of attendance was continued to the next meeting.
The next regular Board meeting is on Thursday, Sept. 23 at 6:30 p.m.