School board trustees change their minds – students to return fully remote

After concerns from parents and students, district decides distance learning is safest option for students and staff when school starts Aug. 11

Christine Oh, Co Editor-in-Chief

Two days after deciding to send students back to school on a hybrid learning model, the San Ramon Valley Unified School District Board of Education reversed course and revised its plan for reopening to a full remote, block schedule during Thursday night’s meeting.

The unanimous 5-0 decision, live-streamed on the district’s YouTube channel, came after State Superintendent Tony Thurmond announced Wednesday morning that districts should not open schools during the coronavirus pandemic if the safety of students and staff cannot be confirmed. The district also received hundreds of emails, phone calls, and public comments supporting a remote learning structure.

“Our executive staff and trustees have always taken the position to follow data, facts, and guidance from public health and make sure all safety is put on the top of the list,” said outgoing superintendent Rick Schmitt, who is set to retire July 31. “I believe the San Ramon Valley Unified School District should reopen on August 11 as scheduled with full remote learning, and phase into in-person learning as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Board trustee Mark Jewett, who initially supported a full in-person schedule on Tuesday, agreed with Schmitt.

“I [came] to the realization that to move forward as one oragnization is to go fully remote,” Jewett said. “That is the only option right now.”

Since the district’s Tuesday meeting, dozens of California districts have repositioned reopening schools from in-person to remote, or have acted to open full remote because of the surge in COVID-19 cases in California and nationwide, Schmitt said.

Two schedules were proposed for high school students by Executive Director of Secondary Education Jon Campopiano.

The first proposal would support a block schedule, with alternating 90 minute periods Tuesday through Friday and all classes meeting for 35 minutes on Monday. Monday classes will end 1:10 p.m., and the remainder of the afternoon will be reserved for teacher professional development and grade level collaboration.

The other proposed schedule was a traditional, non-block schedule where all classes would have met for 50 minutes each day. The board rejected this more traditional schedule and unanimously approved the block schedule.

“The block schedule will allow for small group breakouts, use of technology, and more time to go deep into the lesson,” Campopiano said.

The district also addressed how remote learning would improve from last spring. Changes would include a consistent use of a single online platform, a uniform schedule, daily teacher contact, daily attendance, a return to A-F grades, and the use of a California standards-based online curriculum, as part of the new Learning Management System, according to the district’s presentation.

Students in grade three through 12 will be using Google Classroom throughout remote learning, said Director of Technology Greg Pitzer. Students and teachers will have access to many features, including assignments, parent notifications, rubrics, annotation feedback, and sync to third party apps, according to the district’s presentation. Students in TK through second grade will use the portfolio platform Seesaw.

The new remote learning model will also provide more rigor in terms of curriculum and work.

“Teachers will have access to an established online curriculum to use to supplement their lessons and units,” said Debra Petish, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction. 

Online curriculum will include more engaging educational content, including animations, videos, and games. In addition, all student progress and performance will be available for parents through the Infinite Campus parent portal.

Student emotional and mental wellbeing will be emphasized as well.

“We’re excited about mobilizing our counseling team, our school site, and our social workers,” Campopiano said.

Many options will be available for teachers to adjust to remote learning, including basic and advanced training in Google Classroom functions, Petish said. If allowed by health guidelines and directives, staff may return to campus to access materials in their classrooms.

The district will also give more guidance in terms of sports and music programs at a later date. The California Interscholastic Federation which governs high school sports is expected to announce its decision on fall sports on July 20.

“That will likely be decided by the state and not locally,” Schmitt said.

While the district is gearing up for remote learning, preparation for hybrid or full time in-person instruction will continue, with improvements in ventilation systems and sanitation efforts.

“All of the planning will continue even though the immediate focus is on remote learning,” Schmitt said.

Parents will receive a declaration of intent form on July 20 and will have until July 24 to inform the district if technology is accessible for all students and whether students will choose to remotely learn through their designated school site or Venture independent learning.

The district will decide how long the remote learning model will continue before reconsidering a hybrid or full in-person model. The school board’s next scheduled board meeting is Aug. 4.