District’s in-school learning plan is scuttled

Acalanes sidelines plan for on campus learning

The Acalanes Union High School District has upended its plans to bring students back with a hybrid model at the beginning of the second semester, keeping the current distance learning format in place.

The district’s board announced the reversal at its meeting on Nov. 18.

A spike in new coronavirus infections pushed Contra Costa County out of the safer red zone. For schools to reopen, the county must climb back into the red zone for two weeks. If that happens soon enough, the hybrid plan could go into effect on Jan. 19, two weeks after the second semester begins.

The reversal follows a long glidepath to reopening that  had been envisioned since earlier in the fall.

On Oct. 13, elementary schools and secondary schools were authorized to reopen using a hybrid model, under the California Blueprint for a Safer Economy, a statewide plan for living with the pandemic for an extended period of time. 

“The main issue is the mental health support.  Kids are depressed.  Some said they have no will to live due to the lack of social connection.  At least with the hybrid model, there will be some form of emotional support,” Miramonte senior and district governing board student representative Preston Nibley said.

At an Oct. 7 district board meeting, members discussed a plan for a progression of in-person learning and on-campus supplemental learning and connection opportunities for students through the remainder of the first semester. However no decision was made.  

“We believe this progression model will best support student academic success, mental health, and social-emotional development while maintaining appropriate caution for students and staff health and safety,” superintendent John Nickerson said in an email to district staff Oct. 6. 

To keep students and staff safe, he wrote, the district will have safety precautions including COVID pre-screening to identify infected individuals before they show symptoms, personal protective equipment such as face shields and masks, physical distancing, density reduction, ventilation, disinfection, testing, contact tracing, and health education for staff, students, and parents.

“Our custodial staff is ready for everyone to come back.  I’m prepared to sanitize this place as if my own son goes here.  We will have the proper equipment to keep the school safe and clean for students and staff,” custodian Edmond Woo said.

At an Oct. 21 district board meeting, eight board members voted to pass this plan.  A survey conducted by the board found that 78.29% of parents preferred to go back to school in a hybrid model while 21.71% preferred to stay in distance learning for the remainder of the school year.

The plan for returning to campus is split into four phases. 

Phase one is the current distance learning model. On Oct. 5 in-person small group instruction started for Special Education students.  Additionally, the after-school sports camps continued  to be available.

Phase two, starting Oct. 17, entailed distance learning along with in-person student connection opportunities. During phase two, students can attend academic tutoring, co-curricular clubs, and academic clubs after school and during academy on campus. Additionally, quiet learning spaces with network access and technical and instructional support will be available in person.

Phase three, starting Nov. 1, was slated to include extracurricular activities and social peer interaction events organized by Leadership.

The final phase, which had been scheduled to begin Jan. 5 at the beginning of the second semester, is a hybrid learning model in which students have their school week split into half in-person and half distance learning.  Students may opt out at the start of the hybrid learning model and choose to continue their distance learning education through the end of the school year.

“If we are really ready by that point as in our cases have gone down, I think that would be a really good way to bring us back to school. We have to be able to sanitize everything though,” Miramonte senior Hannah Mueller said.

This story has been updated from its original version.