After nearly a year of distance learning, about 125 Sequoia Union High School District parents, students and teachers gathered outside of the district office in Redwood City on Tuesday afternoon to urge officials to reopen classrooms once San Mateo County entered the less restrictive red tier. That same day, county officials announced that local conditions had improved enough to allow its move to the red tier starting Wednesday, Feb. 24.
Reopen SUHSD, a group of about 500 district parents, students, teachers and community members that formed several weeks ago, organized the rally, stating that students learn most effectively — and their social, emotional and mental health is best served — by attending school in person. An online petition from the group urging the school board to reopen schools has garnered over 1,600 signatures.
"It is time for the Sequoia Union High School District to follow the science, and bring kids and teachers back to campus safely in the red tier," the group said in a statement.
Menlo-Atherton High School parent Paige Winikoff, a group organizer, said she's frustrated the district doesn't have a plan to reopen. She hoped the rally could promote the group's work.
A new district report, presented at the Wednesday night school board meeting, shows that high school students are struggling academically this quarter. There was a 34% increase in the number of students with three or more D's & F's at the end of the second quarter compared to the same time last year.
The average freshman GPA dropped from 3.0 to 2.85 during the same period. The second quarter GPA of socioeconomically disadvantaged ninth graders dropped from 2.33 to 1.84.
In October, district officials reported that the percentage of students with more than one failing grade in the fall jumped to 29% from 19.7% in 2019.
Kevin Shvodian, an M-A senior and co-captain of the varsity lacrosse team, said a lot of students have struggled with distance learning. He said physics labs are impossible to conduct over Zoom, so teachers send a video of the lab being conducted. Students don't get to learn or problem solve with this format, he noted.
"It's still just so different from the school we've grown up with for 12 years," he said. "A lot of issues that arise with not being present in the classroom. Most students struggle to stay engaged ... School is designed to foster learning, sitting on the computer screen is nowhere close to that."
Steve Kryger, co-athletic director at M-A, a math teacher at the school and a parent of students who attend public schools in the area, supports students returning to classrooms.
"From my perspective, there are lots of occupations that have not signed up to get COVID but have gone back to work: bus drivers and grocery workers," he said. "None sign up to die or get sick. The risk is minimal given all of the precautions that are taking place. The benefits are well worth the risk."
Dr. Caroline Krauskopf, a substitute teacher for the small in-person academic support cohort the Sequoia district is holding, said her eighth grader at Corte Madera School in Portola Valley has "blossomed" since returning to school two days a week. In contrast, her son, who is a senior at Woodside High School, has lost his respect for school, finding it difficult to focus on lessons when he "has the internet at his fingertips."
"How much longer are we going to continue to proceed with this system when it really is our youth who are paying the price?" she said. "Who would have thought this would last almost a year?"
Winikoff said that for her son, who has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), understanding instructions from someone on a screen you've never met is "painful." She said as an example that he completed assignments but wasn't turning them in because he hadn't attached them online correctly.
"There's already a communications barrier (for students with IEPs) without distance learning,” she said.
Information on the group is online here