In a packed Zoom school board meeting that hit the virtual platform's capacity of 500 viewers, the Sequoia Union High School District on Tuesday night gave its most concrete decision about the fate of the fall thus far: High school students will learn from home for the first quarter of the school year.
Superintendent Mary Streshly said that recent coronavirus case increases have pushed the district to keep students learning remotely until at least October, saying that the district works from a system of phases meant to adapt to ongoing health conditions.
She said that the administration's decision was based on "current health data in conjunction with our evaluation of our current abilities to keep both staff and students safe in classrooms."
Students and staff will follow a consistent bell schedule during distance learning, Streshly said, and students will receive letter grades -- a notable change after the district had moved to a credit/no-credit system for the spring semester.
The announcement Tuesday follows a two-month-long community debate about a single question: return students to campus, or keep them home?
At a June 10 board meeting, parents flooded the board with public comments imploring the district to allow kids to return to campus with a hybrid schedule -- half online, half on-campus.
Meanwhile, a June 24 meeting saw hundreds of comments from district teachers and staff asking for greater caution about reopening schools. A survey done by the Sequoia District Teachers Association found that 46% of teachers opposed returning to campus in the fall, with most citing health concerns. At that meeting, the board voted 4-1 on June 24 in favor of a hybrid learning model as part of a phased reopening plan that changes based on county health conditions.
The meeting follows a July 17 announcement from Gov. Gavin Newsom that public schools on the state's coronavirus watchlist cannot open campuses until they've been off the list for 14 days.
Newsom also announced new safety criteria for schools, including face masks for staff and students in third grade and above, 6 feet of social distance "as practicable," and regular temperature and symptom checks.
As of now, Sequoia Union High School District -- which includes Menlo-Atherton and Woodside high schools and TIDE Academy -- has not made concrete plans beyond the first quarter.
In June, the district board committed to a four-phase system that adapts to local health conditions. The first quarter of the fall semester will correspond to phase one, which is full distance learning, while a hybrid schedule would represent phase three and fully reopening schools would be phase four.
Streshly said at Tuesday's meeting that during distance learning, which will begin in August, students will receive "daily live interactions with teachers and other students," and that students will receive "class assignments that are challenging and equivalent to in-person instruction."
Streshly emphasized the "dynamic nature" of the district's response to COVID-19. "As we move forward we need to stay flexible and adaptive," she said. "Because that's the beast that we battle in the global pandemic."
Local elementary schools
Other school districts are poised to discuss fall reopening plans in light of recent coronavirus case increases and the governor's announcement. Board meetings are planned for Menlo Park City School District on July 23, Portola Valley Elementary School District on July 24, Woodside Elementary School District on July 28, and Los Lomitas Elementary School District on August 5.
Belle Haven Elementary in the Ravenswood School District and Selby Lane Elementary in the Redwood City School District have both already announced they will start the school year with full distance learning.