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(Photo - NeONBRAND on Unsplash)

Alameda County — As Tri-Valley students return to campus full time, districts are experiencing a range of reactions from parents in response to the state’s mandates.

In Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD), parents bombarded the school board during its Aug. 17 meeting with requests to allow mask choice for their students. During the more than two hours of public comments, a minority of speakers supported masking.

“While most of our live speakers were those speaking against mask mandates, there were also supporters of masks that spoke,” said district spokesperson Michelle Dawson. “Additionally, while I did not do a tally of the total written correspondence received, there were a large number of written letters in favor of upholding the mask mandate set forth by the California Public Health Department.”

During the meeting, the district also voted to approve a contract with the Alameda County Health Department for student COVID-19 testing.

“We're very excited to be entering into an agreement with the county health department to provide testing for students whose parents provide permission,” said Deputy Superintendent Chris Van Schaack. “This will allow us to help limit the number of students who are required to quarantine when there is a confirmed case of COVID. Asymptomatic students who are tested will not be required to stay home.”

Vineyard Alternative, LVJUSD’s independent study program, offers virtual options for students who do not wish to return to campus this year. However, new state legislation, AB 130, has prohibited districts from offering last year’s education model. In last year's model, students across the state attended a daily virtual class with teachers and fellow classmates participating in the live meeting. In the new model, the virtual option mimics an independent study program, where students learn mostly on their own and check in with a teacher periodically.

In the Pleasanton Unified School District (PUSD), parents have expressed concern over the risk of returning students to campus, considering the increased number of the Delta variant of COVID-19 cases, and what they call the inequity of the district’s virtual option.

A letter from “Parents of PUSD” to The Independent detailed these concerns, noting positive cases of COVID-19 had been reported in schools and daycares.

“Due to this, it has Pleasanton parents very worried and concerned,” the letter stated. “The virtual option that's offered by PUSD is disconnected from the school and is not equitable. There is already a petition started before school started and currently has 784 supporters. The school district is not responding and is just being silent.”

The group did not respond to requests for comment.

Patrick Gannon, PUSD’s communications and community engagement coordinator, said all efforts are being made to keep students safe on campus, including universal masking both indoors and outdoors.

“We are currently doing more than what’s required by the county and the state,” Gannon said. “We are requiring every student and staff member to complete a daily health screening before they come on campus that asks whether the individual has been exposed or diagnosed with COVID in the last 10 days and if they are experiencing new symptoms.”

Gannon noted at this time last year, parents were concerned about the effects of not being in school. Now the complaints, he said, are centered around the format of the district’s Virtual Academy, which offers a homeschool option for families.

In Dublin Unified School District (DUSD), Public Information Officer Chip Dehnert said some of his district’s families are also trying to recapture the distance learning experience from last year.

In May, the district sent communication to its families to see who would be interested in remaining in a virtual school setting. Over the summer — especially in the last weeks before school started — many families who wanted more time to decide asked to switch from in-person instruction to virtual. By the first day of school, 500 families were on the waitlist. Dehnert said the virtual academy was not staffed or prepared for that number.

“That’s been an issue, moving students from the waitlist to virtual learning,” said Dehnert. “We said if families are not currently in virtual, they need to bring their students to class, or it will be an unexcused absence. This week, we have been in the process of moving about 100 students from the waitlist into the virtual class. It will be a challenge to meet the needs of everyone who wants to be in a virtual classroom at this point.”

Dehnert said parents who are unhappy with the style of the virtual learning offered and want to return to last year’s style will need to raise that issue in Sacramento. He said the state made exceptions last year, but now prefers a modified form of independent study.

“The distance learning model from last year is not available,” he said. “A district could do it, but they wouldn’t get funding for the students who participated, and districts need funding.”