In a 3-2 split vote, the Pleasanton Unified School District (PUSD) decided it will reopen with a hybrid schedule for elementary schools at the start of the new year.

Beginning Jan. 4, the day after the holiday vacation ends, families with students in transitional kindergarten through fifth grade will now have the option to return their children to class in a modified schedule. Families may also continue with 100% remote learning. The board will address reopening middle and high schools later, as discussions with public health officials continue.

Following a three-hour special meeting on Oct. 16, Trustees Valerie Arkin and Mark Miller supported Board President Steve Maher’s motion in favor of the reopening. Vice President Jamie Yee and Trustee Joan Larsen dissented, citing their opposition to the Jan. 4 reopening date set in the motion. They believed that the reopening should happen sooner.

Laursen voted against the motion, because she felt that education does its best work in the close, in-person links between teachers and students. She said the district’s planning has taken into account the sanitation and other preventive measures designed to ensure maximum safety. She preferred a Nov. 30 starting date, after the Thanksgiving break.

After the meeting, Yee later reported that she was OK with Laursen’s preferred Nov. 30 start.

“Right now, the split vote reflects the split in the community (between continuing remote learning or starting at-site learning),” Yee said. “In retrospect, I would have made a motion for a Dec. 5 date. It would have been more of a win-win for everyone.”

Miller believed the Jan. 5 reopening date enhanced the opportunity to obtain teacher buy-in. More time also works to parents’ advantage to decide if they want their children to continue in remote learning or on-site, he added.

Maher’s motion for the later date followed his expressed concern over low support from staff, as reflected in the results of a survey. Out of 500 surveyed, 45% agreed with the statement, ”Not manageable for me at this time.” Close to 31% checked, “Unsure about my ability to implement this model.”

In the remaining two groups on the pie chart, 15% said they could handle a hybrid teaching model with training and support; 9% said it “Seems doable to me.”

PUSD Superintendent David Haglund stressed that, if he does not deem the health conditions to be safe, the schools will not reopen. Haglund has said repeatedly at each board meeting, including Oct. 16, that committing to a date does not automatically mean the schools must open on those dates.

The meeting was conducted in the district headquarters for the first time since the pandemic began. Arkin, Laursen, Miller and Haglund and leading staff administrators sat masked at proper distances in the board room with Plexiglas panels between them. Attending via remote television were Maher and Yee.