REGIONAL — Responding to the county’s reopening plan, school districts in the Tri-Valley are grappling with how and when to return students to the classroom.
In the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD), elementary schools expect to resume some in-person instruction for special education students the first week of November. The district has not provided a timeframe for when it aims to begin returning the rest of the elementary school students to a hybrid model.
Elementary students enrolled in Dublin public schools could return to the classroom by mid-January. Like Livermore, Dublin anticipates starting in-person instruction for small cohorts of some of the district’s neediest students this fall before the new year. On Oct. 16, The Pleasanton Unified School District voted 3-2 to reopen schools for TK-5 students on Jan. 4, after the winter vacation. The Independent reported on Pleasanton’s plans in last week’s edition. To read the full article, visit http://bit.ly/Indy_PUSDreopening.
Neither Livermore nor Dublin have set a board meeting date for votes on their reopening plans, which require additional work and planning in order to meet all of the requirements of state and local health authorities. Regardless, all three districts will retain the option for families to keep children at home to learn remotely. Similarly, some staff with health concerns will choose not to return to in-person learning.
“Our first priority is to bring our students back, and that’s what we want,” Daniel Moirao, Dublin Unified School District (DUSD) interim superintendent, said at the district’s Oct. 13 school board meeting. “At the same time, we want everybody to be safe and healthy.”
In a letter sent home to families later that week, Moirao provided what he described as an optimistic goal for reopening in mid-January.
Reopening could not come sooner for some parents who spoke at the LVUSD school board meeting last week. Other parents not in attendance cautioned in written comments to the trustees against rushing to reopen too quickly.
“I think the map from where we were to where we want to go is convoluted at best,” said Chris Van Schaack, LVUSD deputy superintendent. “We know that there’s going to be changes in direction along the way, and we want to be prepared for those. We know where we want to go; again it’s to get 100% of our students back. But, we also know that the journey will not be a straight line.”
When schools start to reopen, they will do so with social-distancing modifications in place and will have to include in their reopening plans health metrics on case numbers and rate of spread that would trigger a return to distance learning. Schools could also be forced to close again if county infection rates climb. With the approach of the flu season and holiday travel ahead, districts are taking a deliberately measured approach to reopening.
While the LVJUSD completes its reopening plan, it will continue to make needed improvements to distance learning, Van Schaack said. To date, the district has received more than $8.4 million in grant funding to help with distance learning and to prepare for students to come back in person.
At its recent meeting, some Livermore parents questioned why the district lacks a more concrete reopening plan, as it has had since March to consider logistics for inevitable reopening. Van Schaack said the questions were fair, but noted the county has changed the rules for engaging students more than a dozen times since classrooms were shuttered, and each time a new set of regulations was announced, the schools had to adjust their plans accordingly.
Nobella Baba, the mother of two students who attend Rancho Las Positas Elementary School in Livermore, said the staff have “done a phenomenal job at doing the best with what they’re given.” However, she added that other parents are frustrated the district was not prepared to reopen when the county granted permission to consider bringing elementary school students back.
“The emails we are receiving that provide us no real information; the emails that have been coming since spring that give no actual timelines, no schedules, nothing new for us to see the light at the end of this really dark tunnel,” Baba said. “It feels like there’s no end in sight, while all these private schools, charter schools ... are going back safely, and their students are happy to be amongst their peers and their teachers.”
Baba’s third-grade daughter Sophia also addressed the board, saying she missed her friends and teacher, and that she would like to return to school.
Earlier this month, county health officials announced elementary schools that completed a COVID-19 health and safety reopening plan would be permitted to reopen as soon as Oct. 13. At press time, no public schools had submitted reopening plans to the Alameda County Office of Education. The county has not yet given permission to consider reopening classes to middle and high school students or provided a timeline for when that might happen.
Robbie Krietz, president of the Dublin Teachers Association, said the union has worked tirelessly to ensure Dublin students continue to progress in their education since the March closures, and that it has taken a cooperative and proactive approach toward school reopenings.
“Contrary to what is being implied on social media ... long before the county movement on reopening, we had started looking at all options for what happens after distance learning (is no longer required) in collaboration with district leadership,” Krietz said.
Aimee Thompson, president of the Livermore Education Association, stated that county and state public health officials have provided insufficient guidance on reopening.
“They have pushed the responsibility for the safety of students and staff onto the individual school districts during a pandemic,” she said. “The pandemic is a health crisis; we need clear firm guidance from the health department. What we have gotten instead are recommendations that are not specific or required.”