The Dublin Unified School District Board of Trustees is moving forward with a plan to reopen schools in the fall that allows families to choose whether their student is physically present at school full-time, two days a week or not at all.
Recommended by DUSD staff and endorsed in concept by the board majority last week, the so-called "choice model" includes purchasing and installing cameras in each classroom for $1 million to $1.4 million and purchasing a learning management system (either Canvas or Schoology) for $75,000-$150,000 for a two-year contract.
While logistics are still being worked out, the premise of the reopening plan is that families will be able to choose how often their children attend school in person in the fall.
In his presentation, Superintendent Dave Marken stated that if 25%-35% of students start school entirely virtual and 30%-35% of students attend school two days a week, then the district will be able to safely accommodate 40%-50% of students who must be in school all week due to childcare concerns and other considerations.
"A key component of this approach is the use of camera systems in all classrooms that will allow students to study at home and participate in class almost as if they were there," Marken said in a message to the community.
Students who are attending school virtually will be logging into their classes throughout the day, watching livestreams of their teachers and submitting assignments along with the rest of their class -- with technological support from either Canvas or Schoology.
Student and staff safety was a primary guiding principle used to design the choice model, Marken said. The lowered number of students in classes will allow for proper social distancing protocols to be implemented, and there was some discussion of students and staff using proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
In his presentation on June 11, Marken maintained that the plan was designed out of a desire to allow families as much flexibility as possible to allow for vastly differing household needs. An official district survey indicated that 35% of families wanted their students in school full-time, 21% wanted to only engage in distance learning, and 39% wanted their students to go to school two days a week. A survey of staff yielded similar results.
After a lengthy debate, the board voted 4-1 to approve the choice model and, in turn, the purchase of the cameras and learning software, with Board President Dan Cherrier dissenting.
"When we closed schools on March 13, we didn't know very much about the virus and how it was going to move around," Board Vice President Megan Rouse said. "I do feel like now we are in a different place. To date, there are 30 cases in Dublin; our community has a handle on social distancing and protocols that have really kept the virus to a minimum here."
"I believe that this plan is the right way to approach this and that having an opportunity for kids to return to the classroom is absolutely the right way to go. Still, this plan makes sure that for those who aren't ready to return, it's not something we impose on them," she added.
Three other trustees appeared to agree with Rouse's assessment, with Trustee Amy Miller insisting that parents should reserve the right to take the risk of sending their child to school in the fall if they feel that it is the best choice for their family.
Cherrier was the only board member to express hesitance at the idea of opening schools in the first place, arguing, "On March 13, we voted to close. Right now, the situation is worse." In light of the pandemic's growth, he felt that it was irresponsible to open schools as early as August.
Marken emphasized the flexibility that the choice model provides.
With the cameras installed and new software in use, students and teachers will be able to transition much more smoothly to full-time distance learning should COVID-19 cases spike once again in the fall. District surveys showed that both staff and students were disappointed with the confusion and inconsistency of distance learning during spring 2020, and having these systems in place would stop this from happening again.
Marken also cited other recent instances that have forced school closures, including the power outages in fall 2019 and the air quality issues associated with persistent wildfires. This solution would function as a long-term investment for Dublin schools to maintain learning continuity regardless of circumstance.
Cherrier ultimately cast his dissenting vote solely because he was opposed to the source of the funds for the cameras. As it stands, the money for the learning management system will come from the district's general fund, and the cameras will be paid for using funds from Measure J; Cherrier felt that the cameras should also come from the general fund.
Marken noted that the district would be applying for a federal grant to cover all of the expenses, though he remarked that it is as of yet unclear whether school districts will be granted such provisions.
Another prominent concern brought up frequently in public comment was the privacy of students and staff with regards to the cameras being installed. "The solutions we are looking at are not 24/7 Big Brother cameras," Marken said trying to assure those with concerns.
"Staff can turn them on and off as appropriate. Please do not be alarmed -- we are, of course, going to address privacy concerns and other issues that go along with this investment. Allow us time to develop this part of our plan and we will report out when ready," he said.
Ultimately, Marken cautioned that the logistics are still being worked out and that most questions will remain unanswered for the time being. The district has been sending out weekly communications to the community to update them on the process as it unfolds, all of which are available here. The first day of school is still slated for Aug. 11.