The public consensus at Thursday’s Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting is that there is no consensus. During public comment, the community shared their thoughts and concerns about when to return to school. Generally, the parents that spoke want their children in class ASAP, and teachers and staff asked the Board to wait until possibly January 2021.
COVID-19 Health and Safety Plan and Phase 2 Transition
On Thursday, Oct. 8, the Board had their first read-through of the COVID-19 Health and Safety Plan and heard an update about transitioning into Phase 2 of reopening: elementary school hybrid learning with a distance learning option. Currently a draft, the Plan covers a lot of ground from hygiene, to transportation, to masks, and more. It also lays out scenarios for if a case or exposure occurs. The full Safety Plan Draft can be found on the District’s website.
Though the Plan was developed using public health orders and guidelines from places such as CDC, Cal/OSHA, California Department of Public Health and Santa Clara County Public Health Department, many were concerned about the mask recommendation.
The plan states “Students in 2nd grade and below should be encouraged, but are not required, to wear a face covering within their stable cohort classroom.” This is also the recommendation at the County level. However, many members of the public, mainly teachers, weren’t comfortable. In that case, some said that they would like to have plexiglass shields. The Board asked staff to look into making masks a requirement for all students.
Another concern was that teachers and parents said they didn’t have enough information about what hybrid would actually look like. The presented Plan had vague schedule examples, but teachers said that they want parents to understand the strict social distancing they would have to do, the actual face time, and other details like recess and meals. Many said they wanted families to know all the details so they can make an informed decision for their children.
There was a “temperature check” survey out that asked parents how they felt about moving to hybrid learning. Parents will be surveyed later on to collect their actual preferences.
Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp has always emphasized that elementary schools would not reopen any sooner than Nov. 6. The new messaging seems to be that Nov. 6 would be the absolute earliest, but reopening may actually happen later in the year or even early next year. Dr. Kemp and staff say reopening depends on a lot of factors, including labor negotiations and the County’s COVID-19 tier status, as well as time to create collect parent preferences and create schedules.
The thought to wait to open elementary schools until January 2021 was brought up by many, including CSEA Chapter 350 President Lynn Villarreal, teachers, and some parents.
“We have really just started to get a good handle on distance learning, that took months to get in place with some level of success,” said Villarreal, “now the idea is to enroll a hybrid model in about 4 weeks. That sounds like a very large dream to me, an admirable dream, but a difficult one to turn into reality.”
Their reasoning included the fact that if schools were to reopen in November, instruction would then be disrupted by the many school-free holidays. Additionally, public commenters pointed out more areas where the Safety Plan is lacking including the issues with the definition of stable cohorts, especially regarding teachers who provide services to students across a school site. Also, teachers were concerned about their unventilated classrooms, the accountability of self-checking for COVID-19 symptoms, the cold and flu season, and, a common theme across the District since March, teacher and staff stress.
On the other hand, parents that called into the meeting asked the District to “stop dragging their feet” and send students to school now. They said their children are struggling with distance learning and pointed to other districts in the County that are open. Still, other parents said they would feel more comfortable if the District took their time and waited to reopen safely when teachers and the District are ready.
The Board Members, as many members of the public, all showed a desire to get special needs students and other targeted groups back to school sooner rather than later.
The Board will have a second reading of the COVID-19 Health and Safety Plan for adoption at their next meeting on Thursday, Oct. 22.
Enrollment & Class Size
At a previous Board meeting, the Board requested a report regarding enrollment and class size. According to Kevin Keegan, Assistant Superintendent Human Resources, elementary school enrollment is down over 300 students, causing the schools to be overstaffed. They have some theories to why this is, mainly an exodus due to COVID-19. Districts across the County seem to be experiencing the same trends.
Additionally, Board Member Vickie Fairchild criticized the class sizes in first grade classes at Central Park, which is currently 28. Teachers have commented at prior meetings asking the District to hire another teacher. Keegan and Dr. Kemp said it is simply not a good time to hire a teacher for Central Park for many reasons, in addition to lower than expected enrollment, including wanting to keep disruptions to a minimum and avoiding shuffling around as they move to hybrid learning.
Board Member Andy Ratermann said he would be open to hiring more teachers, and also threw out the idea of co-teachers as a solution.
Keegan pointed out that across the District, first grade classes are larger than 21, so they need to look across the District. Board Member Albert Gonzalez and Board President Dr. Michele Ryan also emphasized the equity of the situation. If they lowered Central Park’s class sizes, they need to consider lowering all classes and look at the specifics. Fairchild said she was passionate about Central Park’s classes that have over 25 students.
Staff said they are continuing to work with teachers and looking for solutions.
The Board authorized a change order to Radonich Corp. dba Cal Coast Telecom for the Extron Audiovisual Classroom Technology System in the amount of $234,316.22 to be paid by Measure H-2014.
The Board approved a resolution affirming the month of October as National Bullying Prevention Month and also passed a resolution proclaiming the week of Oct. 11 – 17 as the Week of the School Administrator.
The Board closed in memory of Ben Hernandez. They meet next on Thursday, Oct. 22.