Magazine News Volume 70, Issue 4

Walnut Creek Elementary and Middle Schools Indefinitely Push Back Hybrid Plan

By Katelyn To

Graphic by Emma Cypressi

With a large number of COVID-19 cases in Contra Costa County, all schools in the Walnut Creek School District began the 2020-2021 school year remotely. When that number of cases increased, pushing the county into the most severe purple tier, the district postponed and canceled in-person classes. 

On November 20, after elementary and middle schools allowed some classes to return to campus, which was allowed under the county guidelines at the time, the WCSD closed all schools for in-person learning. Tice Creek Principal Damian Scott said, “We had our Early Intervention Program students in school on campus for about three weeks until we had to shut down in person school again the Friday before Thanksgiving.” 

Additionally, Walnut Creek Intermediate opened for two weeks, allowing a special education class to learn on campus. They also had to return to distance learning “when the county regressed to the purple tier before the Thanksgiving holiday,” said WCI Principal Jason Law. 

“Parkmead TK students began school on November 16,” said Parkmead Elementary Principal Alison Gomez. Special Day Classes opened on October 19 under a “hybrid in-person instruction model,” according to the district’s Return to Learn 3.0 website, which took place at Buena Vista, Murwood and Tice Creek. However, all TK and Special Day Classes returned to remote learning as well, shortly after starting in-person classes. 

This remote learning appears set to continue for the foreseeable future. As of now, WCSD plans to continue remote learning after winter break on January 4 for all elementary schools and Tice Creek, and January 11 for WCI. When possible under the Contra Costa Health Services’ guidelines, schools will transition to hybrid in-person learning, although at the moment, it is unknown when that may occur. If Contra Costa County remains in the purple tier, according to the California Department of Public Health, then no schools in the county may open up, including WCSD. A county’s risk level is widespread when it is in the purple tier, meaning that it has more than seven daily cases per 100,000, and a positive test rate of greater than 8%. For schools in California to be allowed to open up, the county that that school is located in must be in the red tier for two weeks straight. 

When allowed to return to campus, WCSD plans to reopen schools for all grades through a hybrid schedule, with the option of remote learning for students who do not wish to return to campus. All students who choose the hybrid schedule will go to campus every weekday except Wednesday.

TK and Kindergarten students will be in an AM group and PM group. The AM group would go to school in the morning and have asynchronous learning from 11:35 AM to 12:20 PM, while the PM group would start with asynchronous learning and then go to campus for classroom instruction from 12:00 PM to 2:30 PM. This would take place every weekday except Wednesday, leaving Wednesday for fully-remote enrichment lessons.

Grades 1-5 would follow a similar schedule, with alternating periods for in-person instruction by AM and PM groups, and Wednesday solely for remote learning. However, the times for each class varies from TK and Kindergarten for in-person days. 

WCI will operate under a hybrid schedule similar to the planned schedule for Las Lomas. Students planning to follow the hybrid schedule will be split into either cohorts A or B, with cohort C being for remote-learning students. Cohort A will learn on campus on Monday and Tuesday and will learn remotely on Thursday and Friday. Cohort B will learn remotely on the days that cohort A is on campus and in-person when cohort A is not on campus. Each cohort will attend periods one, three, five and seven in-person on Monday or Thursday and periods two, four and six in-person on Tuesday or Friday. 

Students in grades 6-8 at Tice Creek will also be placed in cohorts A, B or C. Cohort A will be on campus from 8:30 AM to 11:34 AM and learn independently from 12:14 PM to 3:14 PM, while cohort B will learn independently first and then through Zoom for the second half of the school day. 

WCSD plans to follow all county guidelines to ensure safety for students and staff. “Mask wearing and distance learning protocols will be enforced, and students will wash hands and use hand sanitizer as they enter and exit classrooms. The campus will also have clearly marked hallway routes, so student interaction in the hallways is minimized,” said Law.

With health and safety guidelines in place, the district hopes to be able to follow through with the hybrid model. “There seemed to be such a positive social-emotional benefit for the students that opted to return to in-person learning,” said Scott in terms of EIP students that were allowed to return to campus briefly. 

“At the halfway point of our school year, I am extremely proud of our efforts thus far, but we have a new semester ahead of us. [There is] still lots of work to be done to make sure our students learn and everyone remains as safe as possible,” Law said.