The Mountain View Los Altos Union school board on Monday allocated $1.2 million to offer more in-person support to students, a plan that will go into effect after Santa Clara County moves into the red tier of coronavirus case rates.
This means high school students who opt in will soon be able to go to their campuses and see classmates, but they will still be learning online — just from inside a classroom, wearing headphones and masks, socially distanced from their peers and supervised by a teacher, substitute or volunteer adult. The district refers to this model as "stable groups" or learning hubs, which is distinct from hybrid learning that mixes virtual and in-person instruction.
The budget includes money for classified staff, substitutes and additional technology support, custodians and campus supervisors.
Trustees supported the additional funding but expressed an eagerness to move beyond this first, limited stage of reopening as quickly and safely as possible. The budget was allocated for 12 weeks — much longer than they said they want to be in this phase.
"I shudder to think if we have to do this for 12 weeks," said Trustee Phil Faillace. "We have to accelerate somewhere in this. If we're going to be in red (tier) for 12 weeks, we just can't keep doing this for 12 weeks. We have to move on to something that does a much better job than we expect to get from this."
Staff defended the plan, saying it allows students to establish new routines by going to campus, learn in a distraction-free environment and safely see their peers while not changing their current distance learning schedules or teachers. Local high schools, where virtually every student has a unique class schedule, are all puzzling through the daunting task of how to reopen for hybrid learning. Offering in-person instruction also hinges on negotiating working conditions with the teachers union, which has criticized both the stable group and hybrid learning models.
Under the district's phased reopening plan, first seniors would come back once a week, then other grade levels gradually over the next two weeks in stable groups that don't mix. By the third week, all grade levels would be able to be on campus one day a week. This timeline could be accelerated if more staff and substitutes are available to supervise the groups. (The district is also looking to increase substitute pay to entice them.)
Students will be grouped by common class or by a common support need. Campuses will be separated into "zones" so students from different groups don't share bathrooms or eat lunch in the same areas.
Board members also expressed support for allowing students to move from classroom to classroom while online learning, which Superintendent Nellie Meyer warned would require additional staffing, funding and an acceptance that student schedules would have to change.
Some students and parents questioned the value of spending money and effort to only allow students to Zoom from classrooms. In a district survey, 60% or more of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors said they would come back to school once a week if conditions safely allow it. But those numbers dropped when the district explained the current option, which is more like study hall than a classroom experience.
"All I'm seeing is there's a change in setting but the circumstances and the situation is still the same," Los Altos High School student Fehi Lotoaniu told the school board. "The reason why I want to be going back to school ... is to be talking and interacting with teachers."
Other students and parents worried about approving this stage of reopening without a plan for fuller in-person learning, and how that transition will work.
The trustees, who held a special study session on Monday afternoon on reopening, plan to meet again at the end of the month in anticipation of public health conditions continuing to improve and schools being able to reopen more fully. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also expected to release new school reopening guidelines later this week.
"This is just a first step, and we know we need to look at other models," said Trustee Debbie Torok. "I don't think it's a waste of time to do it … (but) we need to set the plan for what we're doing next."