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Mountain View-Los Altos hammers out plans for virtual high school

State testing is canceled and classes go online, but no decision yet on whether prom or graduation are canceled

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In a nearly empty boardroom, the Mountain View Los Altos High School district board met virtually with Superintendent Nellie Meyer and technology director Bob Fishtrom to discuss how virtual school for homebound teens will work in the weeks to come.

Ultimately, the board voted 4-0, with board member Debbie Torok absent, in favor of an emergency resolution to delegate authority to Meyer to "take all appropriate action to respond to the coronavirus pandemic" to ensure student welfare, safety and educational well-being. That includes the ability to cancel or modify activities, programs, courses, or close school and program sites; to protect district property and to make further emergency declarations or actions.

Much remains up in the air as state, federal and other educational agencies create new mandates and recommended best practices for school districts to follow, but as of March 19, the district's plans are as follows.

Distance Learning Plan

The district has spent the past few days furiously working to set up a plan for online learning to support all students, said Meyer. The district has been working with school districts in Fremont, Saratoga, Palo Alto and Santa Clara, as well as the Mountain View Whisman and Los Altos elementary school districts to figure out best practices and share ideas.

The plan has three phases.

First, distance learning will start with a 10-day "bridge" plan to take the schools through Spring Break. Starting Monday, March 23, teachers will use Google Classroom to check in with their students, share expectations and familiarize students with the online learning tools.

During this period, administrators will collect teacher feedback. About 70% of teachers at Mountain View High School already use Google Classroom, Meyer said. She didn't immediately know how many did so at Los Altos High School.

The second phase will kick in if – as currently anticipated – Governor Gavin Newsom extends mandatory public school closures through the end of the school year.

Leaving room for flexibility depending "on the context of what is going on in the world at the time," Meyer said, the plan will be to teach students new material and keep them as up to date as possible with the originally-planned content. in alignment with state standards.

However, state testing has been suspended, and it is unclear how student progress toward those standards will be measured virtually, Meyer said.

The College Board, the organization that oversees Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum, has a number of online resources such as videos and lessons that many teachers already use.

The school library has expanded its online resources to enable students to do research without having to visit the library to check out printed materials, she said.

In the third phase, which doesn't yet have a start date, the district will fine-tune its distance learning systems, expanding teleconferencing, increasing academic rigor and improving learning opportunities, Meyer told the board. Depending on how the system works, the district might decide to develop an independent learning option for students in the coming years – something that would be explored after the COVID-19 crisis is over, she said.

The school district will be in contact with families of students enrolled in English Language Learning or in special education programs to work through how to engage students who often need additional support outside the classroom. After spring break, the district plans to launch a task force to introduce those intervention and support measures as needed, Meyer said.

Students with no home internet

At the start of the school year, there were about 124 families who didn't have home internet access, according to Fishtrom. When the district reached out more recently, 60 households requested internet access, he said.

The district has purchased 100 wireless internet devices and data plans through T-Mobile's EmpowerED 2.0 program, but due to a backlog of requests, those are not expected to arrive until next Wednesday or Friday, he added.

Prom and graduation?

Will prom and/or graduation will be canceled? That's a question board President Sanjay Dave said he's heard frequently from district families.

That's still to be determined, according to Meyer. The district will make its decision closer to those scheduled events, she said.

State, AP and SAT/ACT Tests

As of March 19, state testing has been suspended, according to Gov. Newsom.

The future of other important high school tests is still being determined.

The College Board is exploring postponing AP tests, as well as permitting them to be taken at home in a non-proctored setting.

"This is a big shift in previous practices of being very careful about proctors and how far desks are apart," Meyer said.

She said she expected more information to be available Friday, March 20. Access College Board’s latest COVID-19-related updates here.

The College Board also operates the SATs, a standardized set of college readiness tests, and many scheduled tests across the country have already been canceled, including one set for March 14. Its June 6 test schedule has not yet been canceled, but the College Board will "continue to assess its status." Access the latest information about the SATs here.

"We are working with the college board and universities as we advocate for extensions for our students to not only take the test but turn in the results," Meyer said.

The organization that runs the standardized ACT college readiness tests announced it would be postponing the April 4 national test date to June 13. Access more information on the organization's website here.

Student counselors will continue meet with students as scheduled by phone, she said.

While campuses are empty

While students are off-campus, the district is moving forward with its construction plans, said board members Dave and Fiona Walter, who are on the facilities committee.

Work could potentially be slowed for plans that aren't yet approved by the Division of the State Architect, if it experiences delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. Progress could also be hindered by disruptions in the supply chain, they noted.

Work to restore the school district's phone system after it was downed in a cyber attack in late January is ongoing. Fishtrom, the district's director of technology, said he expected it to be back up and running by the end of the month.

Food program

There’s a possibility that the system that the high school district has implemented this week in partnership with the Mountain View Whisman School District to provide lunches and breakfasts to all children under 18 who need them may be asked to expand food services. The first day, the program distributed about 1,000 meals to Mountain View and Los Altos children, according to Meyer.

The districts may need to offer additional meals to the broader community.

The meals are available at Mistral Elementary School at 505 Escuela Ave. in Mountain View, between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. and IDs are not required.

Access a bilingual flyer with more information here.

Future Board Meetings

The format of future meetings are also going to change. The Brown Act was modified by an executive order from Gov. Newsom that now allows meetings to take place virtually for health reasons. Previously the law said that someone had to be present in the location at which a board meeting is to be held, according to Meyer. Meeting videos will be recorded and posted on the district's website, according to Fishtrom.

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