Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District board leaders unveiled a hybrid schedule for students that will amount to about five hours of in-person instruction, split within two days, per week.
During a study session on Monday night, district board members provided a clearer picture of what some of their high school students' last three months of the spring semester may look like as the district aims to start hybrid learning the week of April 19, after spring break.
The plan details a staggered schedule in which the student population is split into two cohorts and, depending on the week, will come to campus on Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday for a few hours of in-person instruction from teachers. Wednesdays will always be reserved for asynchronous learning.
Based on the schedule, the two groups will only come to campus for two periods of classes per day. And, again depending on the week, students will either come only in the morning or afternoon.
In one week, for example, Group A of students scheduled to go to campus on Monday and Tuesday will come in the morning at 9 a.m. for in-person instruction and leave during lunch to finish their school day at home. In the next week, that same group will come back Thursday and Friday for in-person learning, but only during the afternoons starting from 12:55 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.
Within each week, the two groups will alternate also between the days they come to campus. Group A, for example, comes on Monday and Tuesday in the morning, and Group B will come on Thursday and Friday in the morning.
According to Teri Faught, Mountain View High School assistant principal and the district's distance education administrator, the schedule was devised to maintain student safety as top priority as the district moves to reintroduce about 700 students to each campus.
For example, the schedule avoids a lunch period. Instead, students scheduled to come in the morning will use that time to commute back home to log in for the next two classes of the day, while afternoon students will come to campus after lunch.
"This A.M.-P.M. model ... better complies with our current (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations, by limiting the number of transitions that take place in a secondary school setting," Faught said.
Faught added that the district will make some adjustments for students who may have transportation issues — some students have hour-long commutes, she said — or other special needs, in which they may be given the option to stay on campus for the whole day.
The limited in-person schedule is also supposed to give more time to custodians, who will be adjusting to a new sanitation routine that will soon jump from cleaning 10 rooms to cleaning over 100 classrooms, she said.
After conflicting statements between the school district and the District Teachers Association regarding reopening dates, superintendent Dr. Nellie Meyer made clear during the meeting that high school campuses will pick up the new schedule starting mid-April and that the date will not be contingent on the county's move to the less restrictive orange tier.
Teachers will return to campus April 19 and students are expected back April 22.
But even so, the April date wasn't enough to appease some district parents and students. Those who attended and spoke at the meeting expressed frustrations with what they viewed as the slow reopening timeline and the very limited hours the students will receive once campus opens for in-person instruction.
"If we return after spring break we have lost over three-fourths of our school year — six to seven weeks of hybrid learning is not sufficient," said Ava Hinz, a senior at Mountain View High School. "My senior year has been slipping away and every single day makes a difference … Almost all of my friends outside the district are back in person, and I'm one of the only people stuck looking at a computer. I urge you to bring us back sooner."
Some parents were also skeptical of the district's reasoning behind their reopening plan and shortened in-person school days, accusing the district leaders of being swayed by the teachers union more than the CDC guidelines or data on COVID-19 transmission from in-person learning.
"I feel like we're falling behind in California," said Gary Kaplan, whose daughter is enrolled with the district. "Oregon just ordered everyone back … We want to make sure the teachers are safe but we know from data that it's safe to be masked with social distancing and ventilation in the classrooms. It just doesn't make sense to me why we can't get back starting in a couple of days or in a week, two full days a week."
For now, the district will be moving forward this week with previously announced plans of "Stable Learning Groups" that were set to go into effect when Santa Clara County enters the red tier. The district's high school seniors returned Tuesday.
The model, which will be followed until spring break ends, allows about 100 high school students to voluntarily come back to campus once a week, alternating days by grade level, while still learning online. In other words, students still learn through Zoom but can opt-in to have the ability to do so in a classroom setting, as teachers continue to provide remote instruction.
Part of the plan also confines students to a given “zone” or area of the campus so they don’t all intermingle in shared spaces such as the bathroom or eating areas.
The district allocated $1.2 million to support the stable learning groups format, going toward staff and substitutes, technology support, custodians and campus supervisors. District leaders have proposed this option as a way to address social and emotional needs of the students and disrupt so-called "Zoom fatigue" from distance learning at home.
Faught said in the study session that stable groups will get students out of their homes and into a more suitable learning environment where they will be under staff supervision. Staff members will make sure students are engaged with their class, she said, and distractions like cellphones are stowed away.
"Coming on to campus allows for students to talk with peers, make friends, meet other people during breaks and lunch, and really support that social interaction that a lot of our students are missing during this remote learning time," Faught said. "A lot of those pieces can support the student from engaging in class and just feeling like there's something different in the day that can fuel their fire a little bit more than if they were to stay at home."
But the learning format has not received unanimous support, based on 653 student responses to a survey conducted by the district.
Around 25% of students who answered the survey were interested in opting into stable groups, 30 to 35% said they didn't feel safe, 25% said they like distance learning, and around 20% of students said they were not interested in stable learning groups, according to Faught.
As the district moves forward with in-person learning, reintroducing teachers to campus, superintendent Meyer said that district leaders will continue to speak with the teachers union as the county's tier status remains fluid.
A contract between the union and district, outlining the terms of returning to campus, is still in the final phase of development, but some of its main stipulations include: incentives for teachers to return before April 19; agreement on the April 19 return date; and agreement to continue conversations if COVID-19 case rates or the county tier status moves.
The district hopes to return to full in-person learning by the fall, using the new bell schedule that was voted upon in 2019 where students start their day at 8:45 a.m.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that students would have about three hours for in-person learning each week.