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Sequoia high school district classrooms set to reopen April 5

With 'zoomers and roomers' model, some students would watch lessons remotely while others are in class

Sequoia Union High School District office in Redwood City on Nov. 19, 2020. Classes are expected to resume in the district in April. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

After nearly a year of distance learning, Sequoia Union High School District students will have the option to return to classrooms for in-person learning on April 5.

The decision comes on the heels of reaching a tentative agreement between the district's teachers union, the Sequoia District Teachers Association, and district officials on Tuesday, Feb. 23, the district's governing board announced at a Wednesday, Feb. 24, meeting.

A simple majority vote of teachers in the union will make it official. Teachers will vote on the agreement March 3 through March 5, said Edith Salvatore, the teacher association president. "Obviously, we hope that it will be considerably higher and represents a consensus among staff," she said.

With social distancing requirements, classrooms can hold an average of 10 to 12 students, according to the district.

Locally, the district operates Menlo-Atherton and Woodside high schools, as well as Tide and East Palo Alto academies.

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The decision also comes after a coalition of over 100 students, parents and teachers rallied at the district office pleading with the district to resume in-person instruction on Tuesday. State Sen. Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park, also called for schools to reopen once the county entered the red tier on Tuesday.

The district will spend a few weeks planning out details of the reopening, said Interim Superintendent Crystal Leach at the meeting. The district will resubmit its reopening plan to the County Office of Education on March 1, she said. Students would not spend time on campus during a typical Monday through Friday schedule, she noted. The district has chosen to adopt a concurrent learning model, known by many as "zoomers and roomers," which means some students would be learning from in the classrooms, while others would be Zooming into classes from home.

Ventilation upgrades on campuses have nearly been completed, Leach said.

Concerns about returning

Protesters cross El Camino Real at a rally to demand Sequoia Union High School District reopen schools for in-person learning once San Mateo County enters the state's "red tier" in Redwood City on Feb. 23. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Parents spoke about the need for students to return to classrooms for their mental health.

The group Reopen SUHSD, which held the rally on Tuesday, said in a Thursday, Feb. 25, statement that it appreciates the hard work of the negotiating parties to get us to the point of a reopening in five weeks. The group hopes the plan to return includes at least two days per week of in-person instruction and two days per week of synchronous distance learning, for students who choose to attend in person.

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"This model is anchored to the CDC's most recent phased mitigation guidance for K-12 schools, and even more recent studies on school reopenings across the country," the group said. "Anything less than two days per week in person would be massively disappointing given the very short time period left in the school year (the school year ends at the beginning of June) due to the April 5 start date ... With over five weeks to go, we are also encouraged by, and fully support, the ongoing push for teacher vaccinations. Now our district must continue to depend on science and learnings from other successfully reopened school districts to drive decision making in the days and weeks ahead."

Teachers became eligible for vaccines on Monday, Feb. 23. Some teachers have been able to sign up for vaccines, while others have struggled to secure appointments on the state’s vaccination website. Some expressed concerns during the meeting about when they will actually be able to be vaccinated.

During the board meeting, one teacher shared her fears about returning after having lost her father to COVID-19. She also said there is an inequity between who is contracting the coronavirus (fewer people in affluent Atherton versus more in East Palo Alto). There have been 174 total cases among Atherton’s roughly 7,000 residents, a little under 3% of its residents have tested positive. In contrast, in East Palo Alto has about 14% of its residents test positive (it had 4,197 cases among its almost 30,000 residents, according to county data.

Some community members are concerned about widespread COVID-19 cases in some parts of the school community, board Vice President Carrie DuBois said. She said it seemed like the data was not adequate for older teens, who are not as good at social distancing as younger children.

"Is the data absolutely clear we don’t need to worry about the spread of data in our large public schools?" she asked.

Board President Alan Sarver noted there will always be some potential risk to students — be it an earthquake, school shooting or the virus.

Other schools have found ways to safely reopen with little to no transmission of the virus between teachers and students, according to recent studies. The CDC advises that it's safe for students to go back to school with mask wearing and social distancing in the more restrictive purple tier.

That inequity has also carried over to vaccination rates, which have been much higher in wealthier areas of the Peninsula, the teacher said.

According to data from the county updated Feb. 24, Atherton has one of the highest rates in San Mateo County with 42.83% of residents age 16 and up vaccinated. Some 22.4% of Atherton's population is over 65 years old according to census data — the group that makes the majority of people vaccinated so far. Just 9.96% of East Palo Alto residents have been vaccinated (16.5% of its population is over 65 years old, according to census data).

A closed door leading to an empty classroom at Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton on March 16, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier/ The Almanac.

Some students might not be able to return to campus because they are home taking care of their younger siblings while their parents go to work, said Jennifer Hettel, the school psychologist at Menlo-Atherton High School. Hettel is supervising her own children at home with distance learning, so she won’t be able to be on campus to support students.

"It's lovely we're going to give this opportunity to students to come on campus, but it's going to be a select group," she said. "When we talk about equity, those are the equity issues we're talking about."

Trustee Shawneece Stevenson said the district was in a bind because it has two different populations and needs to serve them both. One group of students want to come back because they’re doing fine academically but struggling emotionally and on the other side are families trying to live day-to-day and they may want to have our kids back at school, but are busy with struggles that make it difficult to return to campus. She noted that there's been a community of people who have rallied louder to return to classrooms than some of the other families she’s reached spoken to.

"I think we are making choices with the information we have," Stevenson said. "Had you asked me in November I think I would have said, 'No, I don't think so,' but when the option comes up (to return students to classrooms) we have a choice and we can talk about those choices with our families, and our families can make informed decisions about what they want to do."

View a video of the meeting here.

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Sequoia high school district classrooms set to reopen April 5

With 'zoomers and roomers' model, some students would watch lessons remotely while others are in class

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, Feb 25, 2021, 4:52 pm

After nearly a year of distance learning, Sequoia Union High School District students will have the option to return to classrooms for in-person learning on April 5.

The decision comes on the heels of reaching a tentative agreement between the district's teachers union, the Sequoia District Teachers Association, and district officials on Tuesday, Feb. 23, the district's governing board announced at a Wednesday, Feb. 24, meeting.

A simple majority vote of teachers in the union will make it official. Teachers will vote on the agreement March 3 through March 5, said Edith Salvatore, the teacher association president. "Obviously, we hope that it will be considerably higher and represents a consensus among staff," she said.

With social distancing requirements, classrooms can hold an average of 10 to 12 students, according to the district.

Locally, the district operates Menlo-Atherton and Woodside high schools, as well as Tide and East Palo Alto academies.

The decision also comes after a coalition of over 100 students, parents and teachers rallied at the district office pleading with the district to resume in-person instruction on Tuesday. State Sen. Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park, also called for schools to reopen once the county entered the red tier on Tuesday.

The district will spend a few weeks planning out details of the reopening, said Interim Superintendent Crystal Leach at the meeting. The district will resubmit its reopening plan to the County Office of Education on March 1, she said. Students would not spend time on campus during a typical Monday through Friday schedule, she noted. The district has chosen to adopt a concurrent learning model, known by many as "zoomers and roomers," which means some students would be learning from in the classrooms, while others would be Zooming into classes from home.

Ventilation upgrades on campuses have nearly been completed, Leach said.

Parents spoke about the need for students to return to classrooms for their mental health.

The group Reopen SUHSD, which held the rally on Tuesday, said in a Thursday, Feb. 25, statement that it appreciates the hard work of the negotiating parties to get us to the point of a reopening in five weeks. The group hopes the plan to return includes at least two days per week of in-person instruction and two days per week of synchronous distance learning, for students who choose to attend in person.

"This model is anchored to the CDC's most recent phased mitigation guidance for K-12 schools, and even more recent studies on school reopenings across the country," the group said. "Anything less than two days per week in person would be massively disappointing given the very short time period left in the school year (the school year ends at the beginning of June) due to the April 5 start date ... With over five weeks to go, we are also encouraged by, and fully support, the ongoing push for teacher vaccinations. Now our district must continue to depend on science and learnings from other successfully reopened school districts to drive decision making in the days and weeks ahead."

Teachers became eligible for vaccines on Monday, Feb. 23. Some teachers have been able to sign up for vaccines, while others have struggled to secure appointments on the state’s vaccination website. Some expressed concerns during the meeting about when they will actually be able to be vaccinated.

During the board meeting, one teacher shared her fears about returning after having lost her father to COVID-19. She also said there is an inequity between who is contracting the coronavirus (fewer people in affluent Atherton versus more in East Palo Alto). There have been 174 total cases among Atherton’s roughly 7,000 residents, a little under 3% of its residents have tested positive. In contrast, in East Palo Alto has about 14% of its residents test positive (it had 4,197 cases among its almost 30,000 residents, according to county data.

Some community members are concerned about widespread COVID-19 cases in some parts of the school community, board Vice President Carrie DuBois said. She said it seemed like the data was not adequate for older teens, who are not as good at social distancing as younger children.

"Is the data absolutely clear we don’t need to worry about the spread of data in our large public schools?" she asked.

Board President Alan Sarver noted there will always be some potential risk to students — be it an earthquake, school shooting or the virus.

Other schools have found ways to safely reopen with little to no transmission of the virus between teachers and students, according to recent studies. The CDC advises that it's safe for students to go back to school with mask wearing and social distancing in the more restrictive purple tier.

That inequity has also carried over to vaccination rates, which have been much higher in wealthier areas of the Peninsula, the teacher said.

According to data from the county updated Feb. 24, Atherton has one of the highest rates in San Mateo County with 42.83% of residents age 16 and up vaccinated. Some 22.4% of Atherton's population is over 65 years old according to census data — the group that makes the majority of people vaccinated so far. Just 9.96% of East Palo Alto residents have been vaccinated (16.5% of its population is over 65 years old, according to census data).

Some students might not be able to return to campus because they are home taking care of their younger siblings while their parents go to work, said Jennifer Hettel, the school psychologist at Menlo-Atherton High School. Hettel is supervising her own children at home with distance learning, so she won’t be able to be on campus to support students.

"It's lovely we're going to give this opportunity to students to come on campus, but it's going to be a select group," she said. "When we talk about equity, those are the equity issues we're talking about."

Trustee Shawneece Stevenson said the district was in a bind because it has two different populations and needs to serve them both. One group of students want to come back because they’re doing fine academically but struggling emotionally and on the other side are families trying to live day-to-day and they may want to have our kids back at school, but are busy with struggles that make it difficult to return to campus. She noted that there's been a community of people who have rallied louder to return to classrooms than some of the other families she’s reached spoken to.

"I think we are making choices with the information we have," Stevenson said. "Had you asked me in November I think I would have said, 'No, I don't think so,' but when the option comes up (to return students to classrooms) we have a choice and we can talk about those choices with our families, and our families can make informed decisions about what they want to do."

View a video of the meeting here.

Comments

Alan Eaton
Registered user
Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 26, 2021 at 4:43 pm
Alan Eaton, Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
Registered user
on Feb 26, 2021 at 4:43 pm

If we now live in a world in which elected officials to the school board of the SUHSD employ the concept of "school shootings" rhetorically in order to browbeat or persuade, then we need new officials. Let us start in 2022. The trauma of others used in this fashion is not an element of rhetoric that does anything other than undermine the character and intellectual integrity of the speaker. Board President Sarver is not quoted but the attribution suggests callouses of the cerebrum rather than sparks of intellect. Also, sensible precautions against transmission of COVID can be taken, no such precautions in the form of liberal mental health supports, social and economic equity, and safer licensing of weapons have yet been tried to see if policy can diminish the shattering trauma made light of, it would seem, by the Board. Schools should open, so teachers can teach and students can learn. Not so teachers must sit in rooms below roaring HEPA filters, speaking masked into Zoom cameras for a mostly distant class, while those who are present also follow class via Zoom with the sanitized Chromebooks on their desks. Urgency rather than thought, privilege rather than solidarity fills a moment that, were we a greater generation, we might find aspires to "one for all, all for one". If it's safe, let's do this. If it's not, let's not. And if we can make it safe, let's do so through provident planning, not through knee-jerk efforts after the fact. The Board has opened schools but has it contacted SamTrans to discover whether students from many of the communities in the SUHSD can access transportation to schools? Given the rash haste in the Board's conciliation and that the resolution of Feb. 24 is only likely to further exacerbate educational inequities and disruption, perhaps we should put the rhetoric of "equity" and "access" in the same bin as "school shootings" for a goodly time when we stir persuasion. Brain and manners, please.


Alan Eaton
Registered user
Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 26, 2021 at 5:21 pm
Alan Eaton, Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
Registered user
on Feb 26, 2021 at 5:21 pm

I apologize for the two infelicities, failed edits, in the top note, but it does need to be emphasized since it is not clear from the article above that the "Zoomers and Roomers" requires teachers to teach via Zoom for the benefit of the distance students and, as a result, no in-class lessons will be able or permitted to draw on any resources, conversations, or enrichments that are not also equivalently available on the screen. "Zoomers and Roomers" just means some people are at school, all teachers are masked, and everyone is still stuck staring into a screen to the exclusion of the world we inhabit, including the relationships, voices, and spontaneity we cherish. If we are going to open our schools but the medium of instruction does not change then there is little incentive for students to return in that many will face potential transmission risks in a model that maintains no stable cohorts but experience no improvement in the mode of instruction and no (authorized) opportunities for in-person engagement with either teachers or peers.


Kevin
Registered user
Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Mar 3, 2021 at 11:51 am
Kevin, Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
Registered user
on Mar 3, 2021 at 11:51 am

@Alan,
I hear a lot of what you are saying - all good points. But you seem to ignore one important point - actual and perceived risk from COVID-19 varies widely in the population, so an "all for one, one for all model" only becomes operable once we drive the risk for the student, teacher, or staffer with the greatest real or perceived risk to near-zero. Seems like the board has made some prudent trade-offs that will only improve as the percentage of the population vaccinated expands.


Alan Eaton
Registered user
Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Mar 3, 2021 at 12:46 pm
Alan Eaton, Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
Registered user
on Mar 3, 2021 at 12:46 pm

Dear @Kevin,
The Board has done nothing prudent. I do comprehend the science and statistics, but if you are increasing the risk without increasing the quality or conditions of educational access and efficacy, then you are just being, let us say, imprudent. All teachers and all students will be on Zoom, no matter where they sit and all will be masked. Pyrrhic victories and Potemkin villages will not educate our students. The resolution as it stands only diminishes educational access and teacher efficacy while opening all to risk for no gains but the political. Again, I am all in favor of all going back, but only if all go back and schools operate as they should, when it is safe. If it's not, then, again, this is negligent and imprudent action, and, the primary point of my previous remarks that School Board Presidents should not casually use school shootings, the greatest tragedy that can befall a community, as rhetorical leverage; that is unacceptable on every level no matter how this is resolved.


Kevin
Registered user
Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Mar 3, 2021 at 10:11 pm
Kevin, Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
Registered user
on Mar 3, 2021 at 10:11 pm

Thanks @Alan !,
Sorry, but if that’s what you think, then I’m forced to disagree. In-person attendance will have tangible and intangible benefits for those who are willing and able to attend. You can claim what you will, but the reality is that even a stilted in-person is better for both teacher and student. We’ll see - I’m much more sanguine about April 5, and ongoing improvements.


HelenKer
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 6, 2021 at 7:07 am
HelenKer, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Mar 6, 2021 at 7:07 am

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