Some parents don't understand why the district doesn't update its distancing between desks to 3 feet now to allow more students on campus at a time.
"A sense of urgency doesn't mean tomorrow, but it means it's a priority," said Rick-Kennel, who will leave her role at the end of the school year to become the district's director of small schools. "It's a priority for summer and it's a priority for fall."
Interim Superintendent Crystal Leach said that the district is aiming to bring students back at 100% capacity in the fall. Of the 9,300 students in the district, those who opted to return to campuses are divided into four groups (A, B, C and D), according to the reopening plan. For example, groups A and B attend Mondays and Tuesdays, and groups C and D on Thursdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, all students do lessons remotely.
Rick-Kennel also said that the school's "traumatic" lockdown — after someone called in a threat to "shoot up" the school on students' second day back on campus April 6 — has left the school community "reeling" and "recovering."
The incident also highlighted the disconnect between coronavirus protocols and lockdown, in which students and teachers have no choice but to be inside together with doors and windows closed, which limits the ventilation needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In one case, 18 students locked down in one portable, she said.
Edith Salvatore, Sequoia District Teachers Association president, said she inquired with the district about getting extra COVID-19 testing and whether quarantines are needed, as teachers and students were forced to shelter in place — up to three hours for some — in closed-up rooms. In some cases, students were brought in from the athletic fields and did not have masks.
"I think we have forgotten COVID is still out there, even though the cases are low," she said. "We've got AP (Advanced Placement) testing, we have every athletic team going. I don't know how we're going to contact trace if we have a positive case. ... I have no doubt we will be 100% in the fall if this trend continues, I just want to remind us all this is a reality. I knock on wood that we don't have a positive case, but if we do, everyone's going to get notified."
Sequoia High School Principal Sean Priest shared the same sentiments as Rick-Kennel about the difficulties of reopening during the pandemic.
"Let's start to really focus on the fall and get the work we're way behind on really ramped up," he said.
'Divide' between parents and teachers
Board members and principals expressed their concerns about the divide that seems to have formed between parents, teachers and administrators during the pandemic.
At one point during the meeting, one parent from the group Reopen SUHSD, a coalition of parents, students, teachers and community members that has advocated for in-person learning, said he didn't feel as if students' needs are being prioritized and that the teachers union's role is not to advocate for students.
East Palo Alto Academy Principal Amika Guillaume said that parents have said some "offensive" things about teachers and that reopening is not a simple maneuver. At East Palo Alto Academy, 25% of the student body is back on campus, with many students not being able to return because they're working to support their families or providing child care for family members. Only 77% are attending classes regularly, compared to the usual 94% to 96%, she noted.
"We are nothing without our teachers," she said. "We'll continue to have a divide if we don't call people out for being offensive about what our teachers do; for truly not thinking of the complexity of what we're trying to get done here."
Newly elected trustee Shawneece Stevenson turned to longtime district employees Rick-Kennel and Bonnie Hansen, assistant superintendent of educational services, during the April 14 meeting for insights on the district's inner workings and guidance on how to bridge the chasm. Rick-Kennel said that district officials have always been good about gathering stakeholder input, but that the pandemic has "thrown us all for a loop because it's impacting everyone so deeply."
"I disagree that the union is advocating only for their teachers; I don't think teachers come in thinking their purpose is not to teach students," Stevenson said. "There is a lot of mistrust between how we interact with each other. We're so frustrated we're not accessing our executive function; we are under stress and don't always get all the details. How do we get on the same page and say 'We are here for the kids.'"
April 19 expansion
Effective Monday, April 19, about 500 students are allowed back on M-A's campus per day, said Rick-Kennel in an email. M-A's total enrollment this school year is 2,371 students.
The same day, Woodside High School planned to welcome 300 students for the Monday and Tuesday cohort and then another 300 students Thursday and Friday for the remainder of the year, said Principal Diane Burbank in an email. Overall, 33% of the school's roughly 1,906 students opted to return to campus this spring (about 600 students), she said during the board meeting. The return was not equitable, with white students overrepresented by 23% and Hispanic students underrepresented by 12%. It did not "mirror the school-wide demographic."
The school sorted students so that even at 50% capacity, students have 6 feet distance between desks.
"The break and lunches will be where students need to be reminded about distancing — and to pick up the free morning snack and lunches in the Multi Use Room (MUR)," she said.
Watch the full April 14 meeting at tinyurl.com/seqapril14.
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