by Cam Lippincott and Ally Hoogs
On November 18th, the Acalanes Union High School District Governing Board voted unanimously in favor of the new Hybrid Model that is proposed to start in January with the second semester.
John Nickerson, AUHSD Superintendent, commented in the November board meeting that the county is “in the middle of a substantive surge in cases,” but the “staff will continue planning for 2nd-semester shift to the implementation of Hybrid and Distance Learning Models.”
Rules, set by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), state that “Schools may not reopen fully for in-person instruction until the county has been in the Substantial (Red) Tier for two weeks,” meaning that public schools not already participating in in-person learning cannot open while in the highest (purple) COVID tier. However, they are allowed to host small academic cohort groups, which at Las Lomas started on October 21st for Las Lomas.
The district plans on being in the red tier by January, so has a timeline on the plan’s next steps in the next few weeks, including sending out a district-wide parent survey to declare whether their child will be returning to campus. Board member Bob Hockett reported that about 20% of Las Lomas families will choose to remain in distance learning. Public meetings explaining protocols for district families went through early December, and there was a parent forum on November 30th to answer questions regarding hybrid.
The school will divide students into cohort groups in late December via alphabetical order by last name. The students will be in three “cohort” groups, A, B, and C, staying together for each in-person school day. The first two groups, A and B, will be students transitioning to hybrid and group C will be those remaining in distance learning starting January 5th.
A and B cohorts will attend school on alternating days, and from there subdivided into different lunch/academy periods taking place outside on the group’s respective synchronous school days. Both groups will get two days of online learning and two days of in-person hybrid.
The school will group Cohort C with either group A or B and follow the respective schedule. On that group’s in-person day, distance learning students a part of that group will live stream the class. On their respective online instruction days, the students will join the period’s zoom calls as regular. All cohort C students will receive support during designated time on Mondays and on “0” period days on the schedule released in an email sent out on November 18th.
The hybrid plan is the final phase (phase IV) of the district’s goal of total hybrid instruction. Phases I through III started In October via small groups “in the most academic need,” as said by Principal Tiffany Benson in an email sent out the week of October 21st. Las Lomas planned to further club opportunities for on-campus meetings, via invitations to return to campus for extra support, as Governing Board member Kristin Connelly explained.
The main priorities of the district’s transition plan is to ”minimize contact at school between students, staff, families and the community,” by limiting “contact between adults [and students] at all times.”
Following CDPH statewide guidelines, class desks will be 6 feet apart, surfaces will disinfected before and after each class, and some classrooms will have desk shields along with HVAC air filtration systems. All staff and students must take self screenings prior to arriving on campus, which involves students not exhibiting a fever over 100.4 degrees, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, a cough or body aches. Lists of screening symptoms will be available via posters throughout campus as well as in district documents. Students who show any symptoms will not be allowed to attend school “Until at least 10 days have passed since symptoms onset, AND at least 24 hours have passed since resolution of fever without use of medication,” along with improvement of symptoms. Students are encouraged to get tested before returning to school, and will be able to return if it is negative and they have no additional symptoms for 24 hours.
If there is a student or staff who have a confirmed case of COVID-19, the individuals who were in close contact (defined as being closer than six feet to someone for 15 minutes or more), will be recommended to be tested as well as required to be in a 14 day quarantine.
School closure would occur if “there are multiple cases in multiple cohorts at a school or when at least 5 percent of the total number of teacher/student/staff cases are within a 14-day period.” Respective schools will be able to reopen when they have disinfected the grounds as well as contact the county health department for further instruction based on the case tier.
Associate principal Aida Glimme noted at the November 18th board meeting that there is “almost [a] disappearance” of students getting average grades, including a widened gap of high and low-performing students, increasing the amounts of below-average grades.
The recent surge of COVID cases in Contra Costa County worried the board about the ability to return. Superintendent John Nickerson said that many students have been practicing improper behavior during the pandemic including hanging out with friends without masks on and that “from my observations in this community, I don’t think we are great [at managing the spread of COVID],” regardless of whether students were to return to school.
During public comment , Miramonte Living Earth teacher Rebecca Promessi said “I would like to say I am 100% opposed to returning mid-year…I have no choice but to return to hybrid and putting my family at risk.” Board member Kathy Coppersmith commented that, “We [the district] can’t meet the needs of every member of our community… but we have an excellent plan moving forward,” believing that the district has to “move forward as much as the county will allow,” in order to get students back in the classroom.