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With 'mixed feelings,' Mountain View Whisman superintendent recommends reopening of schools

Trustees largely support plan to bring students back

Mountain View Whisman School District Superintendent Ayindé Rudolph hands meals to a family at a drive-thru at Gabriela Mistral Elementary in Mountain View on March 18, shortly after the coronavirus pandemic closed schools. Now, nearly a year later, Rudolph is proposing to bring students back on campus after Santa Clara County's COVID-19 transmission rates decline. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

After nearly a year of school closures, Mountain View Whisman School District plans to start bringing back students to campuses once Santa Clara County has been in the red tier of COVID-19 case rates for two weeks.

Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph made this recommendation to the board on Thursday with "mixed feelings," particularly given "overwhelming" concerns from teachers and staff about returning to work in person. He said the change in direction was driven by improving public health conditions and growing concern about students who are struggling academically and emotionally while schools remain closed.

"No one wants to put anyone at risk," he said at Thursday's board meeting. "In this case, siding with the needs of kids is something that I'm OK with. ... I think this is the best path forward we have, considering all the factors that are outside our control and thinking about everything we've done that's in our control."

The district is currently only open for about 130 students attending in-person learning pods and until now had not pressed forward with a hybrid learning plan. Two weeks ago, Rudolph was concerned about local coronavirus rates and board members were largely lauding distance learning and positive student achievement data during the closures.

Under Rudolph's recommendation, the district will first reopen schools for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first grade, sixth grade and special education students; then second, third and seventh grade; and finally fourth, fifth and eighth grade. Families will still have the option of full distance learning, and students learning at home or in person will all be guaranteed four days of live instruction per week. Teachers in classrooms will provide simultaneous remote instruction to students learning remotely. Middle schoolers will be grouped into stable cohorts who stay in a classroom together, while their teachers move from group to group in a staggered bell schedule.

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All schools will follow required public health precautions, including social distancing and wearing masks at all times (and students who can't adhere to the guidelines will be moved into remote learning, Rudolph said). Both employees and students will have access to regular, on-campus COVID-19 testing that's already being provided by El Camino Hospital.

The district is targeting a mid-March reopening for the first group of students, but that will hinge on local public health conditions.

"We are still concerned about COVID case levels countywide, but we have done a lot of work with our safety planning and know more about how to prevent COVID transmission than we did this fall," Rudolph wrote in an email to the Voice. "We also recognize that some students really need to come back to in-person learning."

All but one board member expressed support for the new reopening plan, which the board will vote on at a Feb. 28 special meeting. Vice President Laura Blakely said she'd rather wait to reopen schools until the county moves into the orange tier of case rates and is concerned about the additional stress in-person learning could cause for teachers.

The other trustees backed Rudolph's recommendation, pointing to mounting research and health experts who agree that reopening schools with the appropriate health precautions is safe. Several also said they want schools to reopen sooner to address student mental health needs, citing both data and anecdotal stories about students struggling with depression and anxiety.

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In an email to the trustees, district parent and Kaiser Permanente pediatrician Allison Collins urged the board to reopen schools as soon as possible. She said she's seen mental health issues, including suicidality, increase among her patients, as well as pediatric obesity and insomnia due to excessive screen time and anxiety -- all of which have domino effects on the children's families as well.

"This is truly an emergency," she wrote. "As a physician, I would argue the risks of not going back to school (physically, emotionally, and socially) far outweigh the risk of of going back."

Trustee Laura Berman said she was disappointed that Rudolph didn't recommend reopening even sooner and is worried about pegging it to the unknown date of when the county moves into — and stays in — the red tier. The county's current adjusted case rate is at 21.5; once that declines to seven, it will move into the red tier.

"I personally think it's time that we open our doors and let students back in the classroom that need to be back and give the power back to some of our parents to make those decisions," Berman said.

As in neighboring districts that are reopening schools, staffing will be a major hurdle. The district plans to survey staff this month to determine how many are willing and able to work in person, but is already considering "creative solutions" for how to serve classes with teachers who won't return in person, Rudolph said. The district only has eight available substitutes right now. Other districts have addressed staffing shortages, Rudolph said, by offering incentives for staff members to become substitutes or increasing pay for substitutes.

The question of when Santa Clara County teachers will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine hangs over all local school districts Rudolph and trustees encouraged advocating for the county to prioritize educators.

The district will send surveys out to families and give them two weeks to choose a learning model for the rest of the school year, and is also hosting focus groups to solicit feedback from staff, elementary and middle school families.

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With 'mixed feelings,' Mountain View Whisman superintendent recommends reopening of schools

Trustees largely support plan to bring students back

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Fri, Feb 5, 2021, 5:23 pm

After nearly a year of school closures, Mountain View Whisman School District plans to start bringing back students to campuses once Santa Clara County has been in the red tier of COVID-19 case rates for two weeks.

Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph made this recommendation to the board on Thursday with "mixed feelings," particularly given "overwhelming" concerns from teachers and staff about returning to work in person. He said the change in direction was driven by improving public health conditions and growing concern about students who are struggling academically and emotionally while schools remain closed.

"No one wants to put anyone at risk," he said at Thursday's board meeting. "In this case, siding with the needs of kids is something that I'm OK with. ... I think this is the best path forward we have, considering all the factors that are outside our control and thinking about everything we've done that's in our control."

The district is currently only open for about 130 students attending in-person learning pods and until now had not pressed forward with a hybrid learning plan. Two weeks ago, Rudolph was concerned about local coronavirus rates and board members were largely lauding distance learning and positive student achievement data during the closures.

Under Rudolph's recommendation, the district will first reopen schools for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first grade, sixth grade and special education students; then second, third and seventh grade; and finally fourth, fifth and eighth grade. Families will still have the option of full distance learning, and students learning at home or in person will all be guaranteed four days of live instruction per week. Teachers in classrooms will provide simultaneous remote instruction to students learning remotely. Middle schoolers will be grouped into stable cohorts who stay in a classroom together, while their teachers move from group to group in a staggered bell schedule.

All schools will follow required public health precautions, including social distancing and wearing masks at all times (and students who can't adhere to the guidelines will be moved into remote learning, Rudolph said). Both employees and students will have access to regular, on-campus COVID-19 testing that's already being provided by El Camino Hospital.

The district is targeting a mid-March reopening for the first group of students, but that will hinge on local public health conditions.

"We are still concerned about COVID case levels countywide, but we have done a lot of work with our safety planning and know more about how to prevent COVID transmission than we did this fall," Rudolph wrote in an email to the Voice. "We also recognize that some students really need to come back to in-person learning."

All but one board member expressed support for the new reopening plan, which the board will vote on at a Feb. 28 special meeting. Vice President Laura Blakely said she'd rather wait to reopen schools until the county moves into the orange tier of case rates and is concerned about the additional stress in-person learning could cause for teachers.

The other trustees backed Rudolph's recommendation, pointing to mounting research and health experts who agree that reopening schools with the appropriate health precautions is safe. Several also said they want schools to reopen sooner to address student mental health needs, citing both data and anecdotal stories about students struggling with depression and anxiety.

In an email to the trustees, district parent and Kaiser Permanente pediatrician Allison Collins urged the board to reopen schools as soon as possible. She said she's seen mental health issues, including suicidality, increase among her patients, as well as pediatric obesity and insomnia due to excessive screen time and anxiety -- all of which have domino effects on the children's families as well.

"This is truly an emergency," she wrote. "As a physician, I would argue the risks of not going back to school (physically, emotionally, and socially) far outweigh the risk of of going back."

Trustee Laura Berman said she was disappointed that Rudolph didn't recommend reopening even sooner and is worried about pegging it to the unknown date of when the county moves into — and stays in — the red tier. The county's current adjusted case rate is at 21.5; once that declines to seven, it will move into the red tier.

"I personally think it's time that we open our doors and let students back in the classroom that need to be back and give the power back to some of our parents to make those decisions," Berman said.

As in neighboring districts that are reopening schools, staffing will be a major hurdle. The district plans to survey staff this month to determine how many are willing and able to work in person, but is already considering "creative solutions" for how to serve classes with teachers who won't return in person, Rudolph said. The district only has eight available substitutes right now. Other districts have addressed staffing shortages, Rudolph said, by offering incentives for staff members to become substitutes or increasing pay for substitutes.

The question of when Santa Clara County teachers will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine hangs over all local school districts Rudolph and trustees encouraged advocating for the county to prioritize educators.

The district will send surveys out to families and give them two weeks to choose a learning model for the rest of the school year, and is also hosting focus groups to solicit feedback from staff, elementary and middle school families.

Comments

Tal Shaya
Registered user
another community
on Feb 6, 2021 at 8:58 am
Tal Shaya, another community
Registered user
on Feb 6, 2021 at 8:58 am

The first lockdown was only to gauge the spread of the virus. It's painfully obvious now that Gov. Newsom plans to operate CA's economy with hospitals at full capacity. This disease has a name: capitalism.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Feb 8, 2021 at 8:25 am
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Feb 8, 2021 at 8:25 am

nice reporting

1:3:1 (quicker-Berman):OK:(slower-Blakely) Superintendent Rudolph seems to have hit the 'sweet spot' with his Board in how aggressively to reopen. The teacher's union seems to be a drag on this (slower), and at least a sizable group of parents want a famly-by-family choice of quicker.

A Superintendent, needs to listen closely to 'the direction' of his Board and Rudolph seems to have navigated this well! If you want to hear a good in depth explanation of this by a Trustee - scan to the meeting recording segment where Trustee Chiang (an educator who really studies "comparison districts") talks about why he supports 'OK', the middle road.

[I myself support the Berman, Los Altos SD, Palo Alto USD 'quicker' approach.]


A
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Feb 8, 2021 at 12:08 pm
A, Monta Loma
Registered user
on Feb 8, 2021 at 12:08 pm

Laura Blakely aptly raised a concern for our teachers. Also explained well here: Web Link


SC Parent
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Feb 8, 2021 at 2:29 pm
SC Parent, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Feb 8, 2021 at 2:29 pm

Parents - don't get your hopes up. MVWSD won't open this school year. I think this was a calculated PR play by the Superintendent and some of the board members so MVWSD wouldn't be hit with a lawsuit by disgruntled parents like other nearby districts have. They didn't even include a focus group of parents like they have in the past, which makes me think it was a back-room deal with the teacher's union. They cleverly tied it to achieving red tier, which isn't at all part of the recommendation by state or county health officials. But, by the the the County hits the red tier, there won't be enough time before the end of the school year for this very protracted plan to be executed. There certainly won't be time for a lawsuit to reopen schools to work its way through the court system. String everyone along until it's a fait accompli.

District staff has failed to execute every one of their various iterations of "reopening plans," despite wasting about $10 million on unused equipment (walk-through temperature sensors, multiple masks for all teachers/students, designing outdoor learning environments that will be complete in 2023, etc.)

I already know how this year is going to turn out. But, I'm worried that our most disadvantaged, vulnerable, and at-risk kids are going to start in distance learning NEXT YEAR, too.


gcoladon
Registered user
Slater
on Feb 9, 2021 at 8:24 pm
gcoladon, Slater
Registered user
on Feb 9, 2021 at 8:24 pm

@SC Parent, you said

"They cleverly tied it to achieving red tier, which isn't at all part of the recommendation by state or county health officials."

When I go to the State's COVID portal, at Web Link and enter Santa Clara and Schools in the boxes, it responds with this text:

---
Schools
Schools may not reopen fully for in-person instruction until the county has been in the Substantial (red) tier for 5 days. School officials may decide to conduct in-person instruction for a limited set of students in small cohorts.

Note on exception: Schools that have already re-opened if the county was in a less restrictive tier do not have to close. However, if a school had not already reopened for in-person instruction, it may not reopen until the county moves back to the Substantial (red) tier for 5 consecutive days.
---

How do you square that with that part of your post that I quoted above? It sounds to me like being tied to red tier is in fact one of the official constraints? Am I misunderstanding you or the website?


Mountain View Parent
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Mar 9, 2021 at 8:57 pm
Mountain View Parent , Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Mar 9, 2021 at 8:57 pm

I’m dissatisfied with the politics and mismanagement of the MVWSD. The superintendent does not have a good reputation. The board has only a couple sane members. This group is acting like emperors and empresses, focusing on power trips that serve themselves and not the children. These are not the people I want in charge of my child’s education. Get a clue MVWSD — you’re losing folks fast. Many parents are moving to private schools because of your inability to get it together for the well being of students. Los Altos schools took action much sooner for the benefit of their students. Stop the power plays please. You’re driving the quality of education in Mtn View down the drain. I’ve decided to leave and pay for private school to get away from this nonsense. Not everyone is in this position, but those who can leave the public schools are actively doing so now. The quality will sadly suffer, but MVWSD you did this. Get it together before it’s too late. You’re on the fast track to further scrutiny and potential lawsuits.


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