While COVID-19 cases continue to rise throughout Santa Clara County, the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District is set to discuss how to safely permit students back on campus Monday, Nov. 9, starting at 7 p.m. Access the meeting agenda here.
As of the most recent data from the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health, there have been 26,490 total cases of COVID-19, including 358 new ones reported Nov. 9, and a total of 430 deaths, 6 of which were new.
In recent weeks, the district has allowed a small subset of district students back on campus to do distance coursework in a supervised setting through several recently launched tutorial centers.
About 28 Mountain View High School students and 14 students each at Los Altos and Alta Vista high schools have been permitted back on campus to do distance learning while supervised in a classroom, according to Teri Faught, distance learning administrator for the district. These students are identified as "at promise," according to Faught, which she uses instead of the term "at risk" to emphasize the potential of students who may be struggling with attendance, meeting graduation requirements or motivation, or have low test scores.
Some students enrolled in leadership programs and sports training have also been permitted to return to campuses in cohorts, which are groups of no larger than 14, Faught told the high school board at an Oct. 26 meeting.
The district was also planning to launch a learning center at the Mountain View Senior Center in early November through a partnership with the City of Mountain View, as well as other potential locations at faith-based facilities. The reasoning behind this partnership is to create a center that is nearer to where students live than the high school campuses, so that they don't have to travel far. Public transportation to the campuses can be limited, Faught said.
Over the previous months, district administrators have emphasized the complexity of reopening campuses. The obstacles they pointed out are myriad. With more than 1,000 students and 150 staff members on a campus, the task of keeping everyone 6 feet apart for social distancing in areas that weren't designed for that – for instance, hallways, restroom and entrances – is a major challenge, Faught and Associate Superintendent Leyla Benson said.
Traditionally, each student has a different schedule and switches classes multiple times per day, which further shuffles the cohorts. The district can have over 100 classes running at the same time on a campus, and while some are small enough to permit social distancing, others are much larger and would have to be split for in-person learning. There are also a number of teachers – between 15-20% – according to Benson, who would not be able to return in person for teaching due to their personal vulnerability to the coronavirus or that of someone in their household.
Despite those obstacles, there are some warnings that the current system is not serving all students well. The district reported in documents ahead of its Nov. 9 meeting that, based on at least one indicator, students' overall academic achievement is worse this school year: the raw number of D and F grades that the high schools reported in the first round of progress reports is substantially higher than last school year. So far, at Los Altos High School, Fs were up 160% over the 2019-20 school year, from 335 to 872, and Ds were up 37%, from 449 to 617. At Mountain View High School, Fs were up 170% over the previous school year, from 226 to 611, and Ds were up 37%, from 451 to 617. These numbers indicate the total number of failing grades, and some individual students may be included more than once in these numbers, according to the report.
The high school district board is set to meet Monday, Nov. 9, and will provide an update on the district's distance learning programs. According to the report, more cohorts were ready to begin to meet in person, but the district was still in search of supervisors.
The district is working on developing a hybrid plan to return in which some students are on campus some days, and they trade off with other students to learn at home on other days. It is exploring three options for hybrid learning, according to the district's Nov. 9 report. In all options, Wednesdays would be set aside for teachers as a professional work day when students would be given pre-recorded lessons to work through.
The first option is to break the students into two groups, Group A and Group B. Group A would come in on Mondays and Tuesdays, for four periods each, and then the second group come in on Thursdays and Fridays. On days when they are not in class, they would participate from home.
The second option is to still break students into two groups, but have cohorts switch off each week, so group A would attend classes in person Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and study from home the following week while Group B attends in-person classes.
The third option is to have each cohort come in each day by splitting them up into morning and afternoon groups. With this option, Group A would attend two periods each on the mornings of Monday and Tuesday while Group B studies at home, after which Group B would come in for the afternoon two periods while Group A studies at home. The cohorts would swap which time they come in on Thursdays and Fridays.
They planned to return in December after collecting input and doing more research in the community to provide an update on plans for an in-person return.
One challenge with the hybrid model is that at any given time, half of the students in a class will have to be studying at home. There are two ways to manage this, according to a staff presentation. In one scenario, teachers are tasked with managing both a classroom half-full of students there in-person while they interact with students online who are participating via video conferencing software.
In the other, teachers would prepare a week's worth of asynchronous, or pre-recorded lessons, and those who are not required to be in the classroom would learn from those. Doing so would keep teachers from having to split their attention between the classroom students and the at-home ones, but it could make it harder for students in the two groups to interact or work together, according to the presentation.