School will be different this fall for students in the Mountain View Los Altos High School District, as it will be around the country. But what district leaders are hoping doesn't change is students' ability to continue to learn and challenge themselves in a variety of subject areas.
And the new school year is coming soon: an online orientation program for incoming freshmen is scheduled from Aug. 5-7, and the new school year for all students is set to begin Aug. 12.
The district has come up with two options, Option A and Option B, that families can select as their distance learning plan for the next semester.
Students will be enrolled by default in Option A unless they fill out a form to participate in Option B. Families can access the form here. The deadline is Aug. 17.
Option A is to do distance learning through the high school and increase on-campus learning as it becomes permissible under state and local health guidelines. Students will take classes in real time with their classmates and with district teachers.
Option B is to use an online learning program that's provided by a third party – specifically UC Scout, as well as other distance learning providers like Edgenuity. A teacher facilitator from the district will be available to work with the student if needed. Daily attendance would not be recorded and the courses would be self-paced, unlike Option A. In either case, students would be able to access extracurricular programs, clubs, a tutorial center, school counselor and mental health support. Both programs would offer letter grades and classes that comply with the University of California's A-G high school course list.
District leaders explained that Option A would be the preferred option but that Option B would provide valuable flexibility for students in special circumstances. Those circumstances might include students who have to care for siblings during school hours, who work during the day or who won't go to campus under any circumstances due to health concerns.
On Monday night, several teachers presented some of the new activities and programs they're planning to implement in Option A to make distance learning more engaging. Students who sign up for Option B won't be able to switch until the end of the semester, while those who are enrolled in A won't be able to switch to Option B except for medical reasons.
Several departments have received funding support from the MVLA Foundation for tools that will bolster the level of hands-on learning students can do at home. The district now has a set of mini-microscopes, which students will be able to take home for use in labs in biology, forensics and environmental science classes. Physics teacher Stephen Hine gave a demonstration of an interactive online video-based lab activity that allows students to take measurements and follow the scientific process.
In addition, students in Jill Denny's choir program will receive tools to enable high-quality home recordings and training in how to record their singing at home. A four-person production team will also provide assistance to help piece together virtual choir performances.
Band instructor Ted Ferrucci explained that while the marching band and color guard competitions are on hold this season, he's working with composers to rewrite larger ensemble pieces to be performed by smaller groups. The music programs are planning pilot programs with different software that reduces the lag time over video calls.
And for P.E., students will be able to track their physical activity through an activity app, like a FitBit, according to superintendent Nellie Meyer.
When it comes to establishing new norms for the school year, explained Teri Faught, the district's distance education administrator, students will be expected to show their faces in each class, tuning in by video, dressed for the day and sitting upright.
And, when the time is right, Meyer said, the district wants to bring students back. They would come back in small cohorts and priority would go to students in special education, students learning English and those who were disengaged in the spring.
But none that is allowed right now – Santa Clara County is one of 34 counties on the state's COVID-19 watchlist and, as such, the district has been directed to open with distance learning.
There is also more guidance available now about how the district should handle COVID-19 cases, should those occur on campus when it is open, Meyer explained.
If a student or staff member has symptoms, he or she should be sent home and be tested.
If the test is positive, he or she should be quarantined for 14 days from the last exposure. The district would notify the public health department and identify contacts. Those contacts would be quarantined and testing would be encouraged.
If the test is negative, the person may return to school three days after the symptoms resolve. If the person provides permission, the school may consider sharing that the test result was negative.
A school may be closed down if there are multiple cases in multiple cohorts at a school, or when at least 5% of the total number of teachers, students or staff are cases within a 14-day period. This depends on the size and physical layout of the school. As Meyer pointed out, 5% of a local high school's population could be as many as 100 cases, so the public health department and district could intervene before then.
If one school in the district had to shut down, would the others close down too? Meyer said that decision would have to be made with the public health department.
The district plans to allow teachers and staff back on campus first, and they will be able to get testing through El Camino Hospital. It is also getting Plexiglas barriers, hand sanitizer and tools to mark 6-foot areas to encourage social distancing to prepare the campuses for whenever they can reopen, according to administrators.