Los Altos district's youngest students return to schools, testing safety protocols

Santa Rita Elementary School first grade teacher Jennifer Finley reads to her students in a designated outdoor space for her class on the Los Altos campus on Oct. 12. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

News

Los Altos district's youngest students return to schools, testing safety protocols

Santa Rita Elementary School first grade teacher Jennifer Finley reads to her students in a designated outdoor space for her class on the Los Altos campus on Oct. 12. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

All nine of the Los Altos School District's campuses sprang to life this week, with a small number of kindergarten and first grade students arriving for in-person classes following a seven-month lockdown.

The soft reopening Monday marks the first in a series of steps to bring back all students for in-person instruction, and will test drive carefully laid plans to avoid an outbreak and keep students and staff healthy. Desks are 6 feet apart, outdoor lunch tables are isolated between classrooms and all students are subject to regimented hygiene routines throughout the day.

Los Altos, like many school districts across the state, is taking a cautious approach and starting small. Only transitional kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade students are allowed back on campus this week, and only on an opt-in basis. The majority of the families who chose not to send their kids to campus will continue virtual learning from home.

The limitations meant that between 175 and 185 students were back on campus Monday, or about 15 to 20 students per school, Superintendent Jeff Baier told trustees at the Oct. 12 school meeting. This is in addition to a handful of special education students who have been back for in-person instruction since late September, but overall is only a fraction of the typical enrollment for kindergarten and first grade.

Baier said Monday was an important test for the school district to see how well parents, students and school staff practice the district's safety protocols, which includes staggered pick-up and drop-off times and designated places to walk around campus to avoid overcrowding. Many of the hallways are split for two-way traffic, he said, and the kids are doing a good job staying in their lane.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Mountain View Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

Another big safety precaution is daily screenings for symptoms of COVID-19, which all students and staff must conduct prior to arrival on campus. Anyone who reports symptoms is isolated and send home immediately, and students who are forced to isolate will revert back to distance learning.

"The protocols were in order and the expectations very clear, and I just wanted to congratulate each of our schools for that," Baier said. "Especially our teachers -- I know that it's been a great deal of work preparing for that."

While Monday appeared to be a successful rollout of in-person instruction during a global pandemic, Baier said it's going to be difficult to do the same for older students. Not only does it rapidly scale up the number of people on campus at any one time, but sixth grade through eighth grade classes are far more complex and difficult to manage than an elementary school classes with one home teacher. Students from different cohorts intermingle throughout the day and visit multiple classrooms based on subject, bumping up the risk of exposure.

Santa Rita Elementary School first graders line up outside their classroom on Oct. 12. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Santa Rita Elementary School kindergartener Sancia works alone at a large desk. Pre-pandemic, kindergarteners sat at communal tables. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

"The students see up to seven different teachers in a day, and our sixth grade really emulates certain portions of the junior high school schedule even on an elementary school campus," Baier said.

In order to better handle the influx of students back on campus, Baier suggested that the school district push its entire reopening schedule back by at least a week. That means second and third grade students can resume in-person instruction on Nov. 9, while fourth and fifth grade will return on Dec. 7. Baier said the extra time after Thanksgiving will ensure that safety routines are ingrained for both students and staff after the weeklong break.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

The revised schedule pushes the return date for sixth grade to Jan. 11 and all junior high school students on Jan. 20 -- more than a month later than was previously planned.

Board president Bryan Johnson said he acknowledged that it was a significant delay, but that it isn't without reason. Los Altos had an aggressive timeline that outpaced neighboring school districts, and it's clear that the challenges with middle school-aged students and the persistent number of newly reported COVID-19 cases is forcing the school district to tap the brakes.

"It's a recognition in hearing from the county Department of Public Health that the restrictions are not softening or going away in the short term, maybe not in the medium term," Johnson said. "It became clear to me that we've got to be a little less ambitious."

Santa Rita Elementary School kindergarten teacher Cici Nakano checks in on her student, Alexandro, having lunch on Oct. 12. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Follow Mountain View Voice Online on Twitter @mvvoice, Facebook and on Instagram @mvvoice for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Los Altos district's youngest students return to schools, testing safety protocols

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Tue, Oct 13, 2020, 1:24 pm

All nine of the Los Altos School District's campuses sprang to life this week, with a small number of kindergarten and first grade students arriving for in-person classes following a seven-month lockdown.

The soft reopening Monday marks the first in a series of steps to bring back all students for in-person instruction, and will test drive carefully laid plans to avoid an outbreak and keep students and staff healthy. Desks are 6 feet apart, outdoor lunch tables are isolated between classrooms and all students are subject to regimented hygiene routines throughout the day.

Los Altos, like many school districts across the state, is taking a cautious approach and starting small. Only transitional kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade students are allowed back on campus this week, and only on an opt-in basis. The majority of the families who chose not to send their kids to campus will continue virtual learning from home.

The limitations meant that between 175 and 185 students were back on campus Monday, or about 15 to 20 students per school, Superintendent Jeff Baier told trustees at the Oct. 12 school meeting. This is in addition to a handful of special education students who have been back for in-person instruction since late September, but overall is only a fraction of the typical enrollment for kindergarten and first grade.

Baier said Monday was an important test for the school district to see how well parents, students and school staff practice the district's safety protocols, which includes staggered pick-up and drop-off times and designated places to walk around campus to avoid overcrowding. Many of the hallways are split for two-way traffic, he said, and the kids are doing a good job staying in their lane.

Another big safety precaution is daily screenings for symptoms of COVID-19, which all students and staff must conduct prior to arrival on campus. Anyone who reports symptoms is isolated and send home immediately, and students who are forced to isolate will revert back to distance learning.

"The protocols were in order and the expectations very clear, and I just wanted to congratulate each of our schools for that," Baier said. "Especially our teachers -- I know that it's been a great deal of work preparing for that."

While Monday appeared to be a successful rollout of in-person instruction during a global pandemic, Baier said it's going to be difficult to do the same for older students. Not only does it rapidly scale up the number of people on campus at any one time, but sixth grade through eighth grade classes are far more complex and difficult to manage than an elementary school classes with one home teacher. Students from different cohorts intermingle throughout the day and visit multiple classrooms based on subject, bumping up the risk of exposure.

"The students see up to seven different teachers in a day, and our sixth grade really emulates certain portions of the junior high school schedule even on an elementary school campus," Baier said.

In order to better handle the influx of students back on campus, Baier suggested that the school district push its entire reopening schedule back by at least a week. That means second and third grade students can resume in-person instruction on Nov. 9, while fourth and fifth grade will return on Dec. 7. Baier said the extra time after Thanksgiving will ensure that safety routines are ingrained for both students and staff after the weeklong break.

The revised schedule pushes the return date for sixth grade to Jan. 11 and all junior high school students on Jan. 20 -- more than a month later than was previously planned.

Board president Bryan Johnson said he acknowledged that it was a significant delay, but that it isn't without reason. Los Altos had an aggressive timeline that outpaced neighboring school districts, and it's clear that the challenges with middle school-aged students and the persistent number of newly reported COVID-19 cases is forcing the school district to tap the brakes.

"It's a recognition in hearing from the county Department of Public Health that the restrictions are not softening or going away in the short term, maybe not in the medium term," Johnson said. "It became clear to me that we've got to be a little less ambitious."

Comments

Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Oct 13, 2020 at 2:30 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Oct 13, 2020 at 2:30 pm
2 people like this

Yes Voice reporter, "carefully laid plans" help the neediest students' school experience 'spring to life'. Great work for the Los Altos community, its school Board providing direction, and its Administration and Superintendent!


Christopher Chiang
Registered user
North Bayshore
on Oct 13, 2020 at 5:41 pm
Christopher Chiang, North Bayshore
Registered user
on Oct 13, 2020 at 5:41 pm
12 people like this

I am preparing for reopening where I teach, when I think of that, and see pictures of LASD, I can't help but feel there's a deep inequity if we don't offer the same as a voluntary option to our youngest and highest-need students and their teachers in MVWSD.

MVWSD has closed conversation of this issue at the very moment the most data on reopening is about to emerge from local test cases like LASD, PAUSD, and independent schools.

Reopening conversations in MVWSD based used the following premises that are flawed:
1) Scaling to all students or no-one approach. (Other districts have been able to negotiate with their unions targeted reopening for waiver groups. Some may disagree with me, but I do not think we will be able to scale to every grade safely, now or January, but that shouldn't stop us from starting now with an option for our youngest and neediest, and also offering staggered routine outdoor grade-level micro-social checkins on campus to build relationships now. Those relationships pay bigger dividends earlier in the year than later.)
2) The premise that other districts are too different to offer insights on our situation. (Not an attitude any learning institution should have, and remote learning has taught us, teachers are learning from counterparts all around the world to get through this.)
3) The premise January will be safer than now. (Time will not make us any safer if we do not practice small reopenings to learn how to do this. County has just entered Orange. This is the safest time to try things.)
4) Discussions of outsourcing reopening for high need students. (This is both an inefficient use of funds and morally questionable to pass risks to a group of adults with less health care than district educators, and aren't trained to provide a qualitatively better experience.)

We won't ever be ready to safely scale reopening in January if we don't gain practical wisdom through pilots right now through December. When I taught my pilot class this summer, I had spent a month preparing, yet there are so many safety tweaks and instructional innovations that you only uncover by doing. That pilot has made me feel much more prepared for my upcoming return to my classroom.

Where I teach also invited doctors to brief our decision making, MVWSD's own parent body has some of the top doctors and scientists in the world that could advise us.

Wishes for bringing these students on campus aren't enough. The current school board needs to have a vote on what is happening before the January fuller-scale revisit. Not voting on reopening plans that have changed substantially since early summer prevents MVWSD from having the public oversight and accountability intended by publicly elected school boards. It's odd that a school district can't discard outdated books without a board vote, yet the board is comfortable letting the district determine COVID-19 plans without a vote of the board.

On a smaller level that reveals a need to re-examine how we view COVID-19 planning, the very tent shown in that LASD photo is evidence we need to think broader. MVWSD stated they couldn't do tents because of DSA. Yet DSA stated we could, and LASD clearly shows they and others got that message.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.