District’s Board of Education unanimously votes to start school year with hybrid learning

Students will be on campus two days a week under plan; full-time remote learning will be offered for those who want it

Christine Oh , Co Editor-in-Chief

Students will return to school on a hybrid in-person and remote learning plan on Aug. 11, the district’s Board of Education unanimously decided during its Tuesday meeting which was live-streamed on the district’s YouTube channel.

The motion for hybrid learning was carried 5-0 among the five San Ramon Valley Unified School District trustees, following a tense, nearly five-hour discussion about the three plans for reopening schools next month during the coronavirus pandemic: full time in-person, hybrid in-person and remote, and full time remote learning.

“This has not been easy,” said outgoing Superintendent Rick Schmitt, who is retiring at the end of July. “Each trustee has been incredibly engaged in this process on a daily basis.”

The hybrid model at the high school level would involve two cohorts. Cohort A would attend school Monday and Tuesday, while Cohort B would attend school Thursday and Friday, both on a block schedule. Wednesday would serve as a full remote day where all students would follow a timed schedule throughout the day, while custodial staff deep clean school campuses.

The board indicated that a full time remote plan will be made available for families who don’t feel comfortable with going back to campus in any capacity.

“Full remote has to be an option,” board trustee Susanna Wong Ordway said.

Parents will receive an email on Wednesday asking them to declare what option their student will be taking in the fall – the proposed hybrid model or a continuation of remote learning. Parents will have until July 23 to decide. Students will receive an A-F grade no matter what option they choose, said Christine Huajardo, the district’s assistant superintendent of educational services.

Board President Greg Marvel and vice president Mark Jewett both favor a full time in-person learning plan, but their motion on Tuesday was denied 3-2. All five trustees favored this plan at the board’s last meeting on June 23, but the district board has since indicated concerns over the recent rise in COVID-19 numbers in Contra Costa County.

Most students agreed with the other three trustees, with 48.6 percent of 1,776 surveyed by the district indicating they wanted to return to school with a hybrid learning plan in the fall. About 34 percent of students indicated they wanted to return to campus full time, while about 17 percent said they favored full-time remote learning.

“Decisions should always be based on what’s safest for the largest number of people,” said Michelle Mascote, a Cal High English teacher and union representative for the San Ramon Valley Education Association (SRVEA). “I was satisfied to see that [the full time in-person option] was moved off the table, because in my mind, that was absolutely never a safe option.”

The district is considering purchasing a California standards based online curriculum program for an easier transition into remote learning, but the decision has yet to be made.

“The hybrid [model] isn’t perfect, but it is a compromise,” board trustee Rachel Hurd said.

The hybrid model isn’t permanent, either. Students will utilize this hybrid model for four weeks until Sept. 4. The board will decide to either extend the hybrid learning model, or switch to a full remote or full in-person plan, depending on changing state and county guidelines.

Safety will be kept a priority for all students and staff on campus, Huajardo said. The district ordered 200 desk shields for teachers and an ample supply of face masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, and gloves to ensure an overall safe environment on campuses.

“We’re being very cautious in making sure that we’re keeping health and safety at the forefront of our decision,” Huajardo said.

In the case that a student becomes symptomatic, schools will take extensive measures to ensure the safety of everyone on campus.

According to the district’s presentation, the symptomatic student will be separated in an identified location and sent home immediately. Students that test positive will be required to stay at home for 10 days after the onset of symptoms and three days after symptoms subside. The district did not specify whether students would have to be re-tested before returning to school.

Students have had mixed reactions to the board’s decision.

“There are school districts that have gone full virtual so I’m interested as to why SRVUSD decided not to go that route,” rising junior Alex Ren said.

Others weren’t as happy with online learning.

“I’m not a fan of online learning at all,” rising senior Jackie Holden said. “But I understand the district is doing their best and wants to keep the students and staff as safe as possible while trying to still give us an education.”

But many district teachers do not feel safe returning to campus in any capacity. Almost 70 percent of the 1,347 SRVEA members who responded to a union survey indicated they did not feel safe or felt somewhat unsafe returning to campus, according to an email SRVEA President Ann Katzburg sent to union members on Tuesday afternoon following the board’s meeting.

“We must negotiate with management on our safety following the guidelines of the CDC and our county’s Public Health Department,” Katzburg wrote in the email.

The teacher union negotiates any changes to working conditions made by the district through the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and reopening schools falls under this category. SRVEA and other union employee groups will negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) about a safe opening for schools with the district in the next few weeks, Mascote said.

Students should expect to be placed in a cohort by Aug. 5, and schedules will be released on Aug. 7. The district will hold a special meeting on Thursday at 5 p.m. to discuss further the details of how hybrid learning will look like in the fall.