STORY AND PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN
The Mountain View–Los Altos School District will take its first steps to a hybrid return once the county hits the orange tier of coronavirus transmission; that decision comes following the Board’s vote last night to approve Superintendent Dr. Nellie Meyer’s coronavirus “matrix,” or process for approving a return.
The plan outlines a transition for the general student body into a hybrid return at the yellow and green tiers, with the orange tier being used as a trial.
“It really is distance learning for the most part in orange, but it would really be bringing back and phasing in hybrids when possible,” Meyer said. “I see orange as being where we might determine we might want to hone in on a certain class level or a certain program.”
According to the State’s coronavirus dashboard, Santa Clara County has a 9.6 percent test positivity rate over the past two weeks. In order to fall to the orange tier, that percentage needs to fall to at least 4.9.
HOLES IN THE PLAN
While Meyer’s plan does detail the return broadly, it leaves a handful of significant decisions for later — namely, what hybrid model the District would follow once hitting the orange tier.
Previously, Meyer and Distance Learning Administrator Teri Faught presented three options for a hybrid return: “rotation,” “AM/PM” and “week-on/week-off” models. Trustee Phil Faillace expressed support for the “AM/PM” model, but that decision will ultimately be made at a later date.
“All the options are challenging, and they each come with benefits and drawbacks,” Meyer said. “When you do switch from one mode to another, there is an implementation challenge and a learning curve, and we also are making sure that safety protocols are in place.”
Board President Sanjay Dave, who dissented in the 4–1 vote, argued that the trial phase of the return should take place in the red tier, rather than in orange.
“The concern I have with this timeline is the disruption it would cause with the implementation of the hybrid program — there would be a learning curve,” Dave said. “It’s a concern of the students that when they go into a hybrid, they may not be grouped with the same teacher or classmates. … I would like to move [the return earlier] and bring students back in the red where they can begin establishing relationships with the teacher and classmates.”
Prior to the vote, Meyer assured the Board that students’ schedules would remain largely the same, unlike the Palo Alto Unified School District’s scrapped in-person return plan; that schedule swap had been a large concern amongst community members.
PUSHBACK FROM TEACHERS
The return, however, faced mixed reactions from community members, with teachers cautioning against, and many parents pushing for.
Los Altos Latin and social studies teacher Krista Greksouk acknowledged a “loss of learning” in distance learning, but ultimately argued that a hybrid return would not be beneficial for students and teachers.
“[In March] it took us at least a month to have everybody adjust to learning and teaching online,” Greksouk said. “If we did go to a hybrid model, I fear it’ll take a similar amount of time for everybody to adjust. Subjecting [students] to a new schedule and new model of learning when they’ve finally come to understand and be used to what we’re doing now would be a mistake.”
Greksouk, along with just under a dozen other MVLA teachers, argued that students would learn more under a continued remote program, as opposed to splitting classes and following restrictive safety protocols under a hybrid model.
“If we go to a hybrid classroom where half the students are at home and half the students are online, we’d all need to be on our computers on Zoom where’d it’d be essentially the same as what we’re doing right now,” Los Altos English Department Coordinator Margaret Bennett said.
The only difference, Bennett noted, would be that half the class would have their faces obscured by masks.
“This pandemic has certainly been a marathon, and at times we’ve had no idea what mile we’re on,” she added. “Honestly, now we’re so close to that finish line. As a teacher and a mom, I definitely want us to go back to normal school as soon as it’s safe to do so … but I urge the Board to wait until we can do this safely and have full classes. All the hybrid models have serious flaws which will cut into the quality of the education we’re able to give our students.”
However, in an email to the Post, Greksouk said that she’s largely okay with Meyer’s phased return plan.
“I like that it’s a voluntary return for staff until everything is open again,” she said. “I think the best plan right now is to focus on students getting D’s and F’s being placed in cohorts, since they need the most support.”
During the Board meeting, Meyer had said that the staff return would be optional in the orange tier, but that the District would still need to work out the details of the yellow tier.
“As for general return, I think we should wait until it’s safe enough to return to traditional school,” Greksouk added. “It was such an upheaval to switch to distance learning, I think it would be another huge shift to try to adjust to hybrid.”
At the time of publication, the Post was unable to reach MVLA Teacher’s Union President David Campbell for additional comment.
PUSHBACK FROM STUDENTS, PARENTS
Los Altos High’s student Board representative, Riley Capuano, argued that distance learning is not as effective as it was made out to be by teachers; she also agreed with Dave in that the District should begin its return in the red tier.
“I’m obviously not a teacher so I don’t have the same views as them,” she said. “But I feel like they are kind of romanticizing what distance learning actually is. I feel like if we went back to school, even though we’d be 6 feet apart, those interactions would be so much more meaningful.”
In an interview after the Board’s vote, however, she said she’d rather remain in remote learning than go with the plan the Board voted in.
“I personally feel like we should go to hybrid second semester as I voiced,” she said. “But I feel like the Board is waiting too long … At this point, I don’t see a possibility of returning to school until March or the fourth quarter. With that being the reality of the Board’s decision last night, I feel like just staying in distance learning would be for the better.”
Riley argued that from her perspective, the educational experience of remote and hybrid learning would be largely the same, even if that means students in physical classrooms are still on Zoom calls.
She said, however, that the social and mental health aspect of hybrid learning would be far superior to any remote program.
“I think that the social experience in a hybrid model will not 100 percent compare to real school, but it will 100 percent be better than what I am getting over Zoom,” she said. “In half of my classes, I haven’t met a single kid in that class because they have never used breakout rooms.”
Furthermore, she said that the teachers who spoke during public comment — like Greksouk and Bennett — are amongst the “top ten percent” of educators in the District in terms of being able to effectively utilize online platforms like Zoom.
“I don’t know my peers this year,” she said. “I have had one one-on-one conversation with a teacher. The teachers were making it sound like staying 6 feet apart is so far away. 6 feet apart is fine. I really would love to meet my classmates, and Zoom is giving me little to zero social experience this year.”
About half a dozen MVLA parents echoed what Riley said, telling the Board that their children are “suffering” under distance learning and would greatly benefit from an in-person return.
A handful of those same parents also criticized the District for not having a more fleshed-out plan.
“I don’t think we should force teachers to go back, but it is the District’s responsibility to create a safe environment where the teachers want to go back,” MVLA parent Wendy Yu said. “How can we talk about when to reopen when we don’t even know what hybrid model we’re going to use?”
Greksouk, for her part, agreed with Yu.
“People say ‘hybrid model’ but without any actual logistical or practical plans,” she wrote to the Post. “There simply isn’t enough space for the number of students and staff to practice distancing protocols. Think about walking out to the Social Studies portables, going through that bottleneck. Or just walking through a doorway to a classroom before the bell rings.”
12/15/20: This article has been updated to include additional information from Krista Greksouk.
12/16/20: This article has been updated to include additional information from Riley Capuano.
Carly Heltzel contributed to this report.