The Sequoia Union High School District is still in wide-ranging discussions over reopening its schools in the fall, Superintendent Mary Streshly said in a June 12 letter.
All eight district schools — which includes campuses in Menlo Park, Atherton, Woodside, Belmont, Redwood City, and East Palo Alto — have been closed to on-campus learning since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Streshly's letter expressed her hope that schools would reopen in the fall, but did not provide conclusive details as to how they would reopen.
"As an educator, it is my foundational belief that students need to be in school," Streshly wrote. "At the same time, as we look to reopen in the fall, we are faced with restrictive health orders that are exceptionally difficult for high schools to implement."
Streshly said that the San Mateo County health officer orders for reopening schools amid the pandemic require students to be in "one stable cohort" — a proposition that's difficult, given that high schoolers typically take multiple classes.
In a meeting on June 10, the district's Board of Trustees discussed the school reopening issue after receiving an in-depth report from districtwide leaders. At the forefront of the discussion was what exactly school would look like: A mix of on-campus and online instruction (known as a "hybrid model"), or fully online instruction (known as "distance learning").
Over 900 community members submitted public comments before the meeting, and over 300 watched the Zoom-broadcast meeting online, with most comments addressing online versus on-campus learning.
Many commenters complained of difficulty learning through online instruction, saying it has been a challenge for both teachers and students. Others cited student mental health concerns stemming from social isolation.
"Our students need to get back to school," wrote Mark Federighi, a district parent. "They are at a significant disadvantage by having 100% distance learning and mentally, they need to be back at school. If you look around the globe and throughout the country, the schools are opening up."
Sarah McCaughey, who has children at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, is opposed to distance learning. "Please, please consider the mental health of our students when deciding learning options this fall ... while they did their part to flatten the curve by staying home for two months, it was at an academic cost," she wrote. "They need to interact with teachers and peers in person at least part of the time to stay engaged, healthy and learning."
District parent Karen Paluska complained that her son was having difficulty learning through online instruction. "Remote learning is not working," she wrote. "Our children's education, especially in high school, is way too important for us to sacrifice an entire year to remote learning ... To learn the core content, kids were expected to watch videos and read things to essentially teach themselves. We know that our kids are not prepared to teach themselves subjects like Algebra 3 or chemistry — this is why we're sending them to school in the first place."
Following the meeting, district leaders have returned to the drawing board and plan to present a final recommendation to the board at its meeting Wednesday, June 24, according to Streshly's letter.
Streshly said that the board is "equally committed to having our students back in our classrooms in August and provided feedback on the proposals (from district leaders)."
"Although our district is working very hard to return students to in-classroom instruction, we will have to adhere to the orders established by the San Mateo County Public Health Department," she said in the letter. "For that reason, any decision that is ultimately made will be contingent on their directive."