The San Ramon Valley Unified School District appears to be reconsidering its proposal to have some in-person classroom instruction this fall amid the COVID-19 crisis, with district officials announcing late Wednesday that the board will be presented with a "revised recommendation" on Thursday.
The Board of Education unanimously endorsed a hybrid model that would allow for both on-campus classes and remote learning from home for students, following a lengthy debate Tuesday.
The plan was for staff to fine-tune program details for formal approval at a special meeting on Thursday, but district officials said new information came to light in the subsequent 24 hours that led administrators to want to revise their recommendation to the board. Specifics about those changes have not yet been revealed publicly.
"As we have been saying throughout this process, circumstances surrounding our situation change rapidly and, as a District, we remain prepared to pivot on a dime and adjust our actions as circumstances dictate, using the most up-to-date information available. Accordingly, there have been some key developments since yesterday’s Board meeting that impact the District's plans to reopen schools in the fall," officials said in a statement Wednesday night.
"To honor our commitment to adjust as needed, given these new developments and the acquisition of knowledge that we did not previously possess, at (Thursday's) meeting the Board of Education will hear a revised recommendation from staff regarding the reopening of schools," they added.
Officials cited new guidance from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond on Wednesday that districts should only reopen schools when they can confirm the safety of students and staff amid the pandemic.
They also discussed limitations of Contra Costa Health Services to thoroughly investigate and respond to an incident of potential COVID-19 exposure on a campus with school in session. And they pointed to other nearby districts' overnight decisions on the reopening question -- Pleasanton, for example, confirmed remote-only learning to start the term for all students.
SRUVSD leaders are set to unveil their revised recommendation to the board during a special meeting Thursday evening, starting at 6 p.m. It will be held online-only due to the pandemic and associated shelter-in-place health order.
Tuesday's board hearing
SRVUSD stakeholders came out of the public meeting one day ago expecting students to return to the classroom for at least part of the time come fall, after the Board of Education signed off on a hybrid model that will allow for both in-person and online remote learning that night
Approved after nearly five hours of deliberations during an exhaustive special meeting on Tuesday, the pilot program was designed to be as flexible as possible -- in order to adapt to changing circumstances concerning the ongoing spread of COVID-19 -- and was designed to last for four weeks, with most students attending in-person class twice a week and learning remotely the rest of the time.
If concerns over exposure to the public offer too high of a risk, families may also opt to have their students enroll in full-time remote learning, under that scenario.
"I feel like it is the good test place, the most optimal balance for starting to get kids back to school and I have heard loud and clear from parents and from experts as well as from teachers that our kids do need some return to school -- for the ones that want it," board member Rachel Hurd during the meeting.
Students would be divided into two "cohorts" for in-person learning, assigning half of a school's population to attend class in person one day and half on another, ensuring that social-distancing policies can be effectively enforced.
Elementary, middle and high school students in Cohort A would attend school in-person on Monday and Tuesday, while students in Cohort B will be attending on Thursday and Friday. Students would be assigned to their cohorts at a future date.
Schedules would also be built to minimize contact between students and faculty.
When students do attend in-person class, rooms would be situated so each student is facing forward in desks while maintaining a distance of four to six feet. Classrooms would further be cleared of furniture and items not necessary and will when possible be limited to 26-28 students in a class, with janitorial crews deep cleaning campuses.
According to district officials, community input played a major factor in the planning process with more than 9,000 parents, 1,575 staff members and 1,776 middle and high school students filling out surveys related to reopening
District surveys found that the majority of students and staff were in favor of a hybrid model, as opposed to an exclusively in-person or remote program, with 48.6% and 46.7% respectively approving of a hybrid model.
Parents on the other hand displayed a greater interest in having students return to in-person learning full-time, with 43.2% of respondents showing an interest in returning to full-time. Additionally, 36.3% of parents were in favor of a hybrid model and 20.5% for full remote learning.
"I've done a tremendous amount of reading in the last few weeks… I think one of the things we need to do is separate out people's opinions from facts and also set out the politics that are underlying a lot of what we are hearing and seeing these days," board member Ken Mintz said. "As you all have said there is no good single right answer, there (are) needs on all sides … It needs to be done safely and we need to define what safely is because there are no clear directions that anyone is giving us to say what is safe and what is not."
After working through the issues for nearly five hours, district officials elected to flesh out the finer details of the plan and release them to the public during a special meeting on Thursday.
That scenario is now in flux, after district officials announced Wednesday that the Thursday evening board meeting will instead focus on a "revised recommendation."
Public comments and questions can be submitted to Cindy Fischer at [email protected] or by fax by 838-3147 before the meeting time. Emails should include the words "public comment" in the subject line.