Editor's note: This story has been updated with conflicting information from the high school district and its teachers union over whether reopening is contingent on Santa Clara County improving to the orange tier. Further updates are expected.
The Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District will allow students to return to campuses for social emotional activities next week and for hybrid learning in mid-April, the district told families on Thursday evening.
There appears to be some confusion over the exact details of the plan, however. A district spokesperson told the Voice, "Our plan is to return to school on April 19 -- and that is not contingent on moving into the orange tier." That contradicts a statement from District Teacher Association President David Campbell, who said that reopening for hybrid learning is contingent on Santa Clara County moving into the orange tier of COVID-19 cases.
The Voice requested a copy of the agreement to clarify the situation, but had not received it as of Monday morning, March 8.
The eventual transition to in-person instruction is the result of four months of negotiations between Mountain View-Los Altos officials and the teachers union. The March 4 announcement follows several major updates this week, including Santa Clara County moving into the less restrictive red tier and Gov. Gavin Newsom announcing a $6.6 billion deal to incentivize schools to reopen. Vaccines have also been made available for Santa Clara County teachers since Feb. 28, and this week the county opened a vaccination site specifically for educators.
The district opened campuses for small cohorts of students and planned to allow more students in classrooms for distance learning, with most teachers Zooming in remotely, after Santa Clara County entered the red tier. Superintendent Nellie Meyer described this as a "first step towards a full return" in a message to staff and families earlier this week.
But starting March 9, students will also be invited back to school for "activities primarily aimed at addressing their social-emotional needs," and teachers will return to campus to supervise students on a voluntary basis, Meyer, Campbell and board President Fiona Walter said in a joint message.
After spring break, on April 19, teachers will return and the district will shift to a rotating hybrid model. Students will maintain their teachers and class schedules in person. Students who choose to stick with distance learning will also be able to continue their same schedules and teachers. Teachers will provide simultaneous in-person and remote instruction through live streaming, Campbell told the Voice.
"We are excited to get teachers back on campus with our students — where we belong," Campbell said. "Teacher access to vaccines has changed the game for us, and the model that we're finalizing with the district embraces the best of in-person and the best of distance learning."
Campbell said he has received his first dose of the vaccine and said many other MVLA teachers have as well.
Meyer did not immediately respond to a request for more information about the reopening plan.
Thursday's announcement marks a welcome change for parents and students who have been lobbying for in-person learning, including a group who planned to protest by attending Zoom classes outside Los Altos High School this Friday afternoon, March 5. Parent Laura Teksler, a former school board candidate who helped organize the protest, said it "will now be a celebration."
"We are cautiously optimistic about this substantial step forward toward returning students and teachers to the classroom," she said. "It is a relief that the district and union have come to an agreement, though we wish this had happened much sooner and are dismayed that students have to wait yet another six weeks to return to school. That said, it makes me breathe easier to finally have a date on the calendar that all our students will finally get to see their teachers and friends and take the first step back toward all the aspects of high school that they so desperately need for their overall well-being."
She said parents have many questions about the specifics of how the hybrid model will work, which the district has yet to announce.
The MVLA school board will discuss the new reopening plan at a study session on Monday, March 8, at 4 p.m., as well as at its regularly scheduled meeting at 7 p.m. View the agendas here.
Mountain View Whisman schools to reopen March 18
The K-8 Mountain View Whisman school district also announced this week that with Santa Clara County in the red tier, schools will open for blended learning in two weeks, despite the fact that there is no longer a requirement to do so. The district will wait 14 days because it "wants to surpass the county's minimum requirements in interest of student and staff safety," is still concerned about COVID-19 case levels in the area and needs time to ramp up to in-person learning, a district FAQ reads.
The first group of students who opt for in-person learning will come to campuses on Thursday, March 18. They'll be in classrooms with teachers, who will simultaneously stream lessons on Zoom for students who choose to learn remotely. (Except for teachers who don't return to work in person due to health issues and continue with remote teaching.) In some cases, students learning in person will be assigned a new teacher in their same grade level but the district hopes to avoid that for most students. Schools will notify parents of students' placements on March 15.
The district will bring back students in three phases, starting with pre-kindergarten, transitional kindergarten, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, sixth grade and low-income and special needs students on March 18. Third, fourth, fifth and seventh grades will start on March 29. Eighth graders will be last on April 5. Mountain View Whisman originally planned to have two weeks between each group but accelerated the timeline, according to a district message.
Students will be able to be on campuses two or four days a week. All schools will post specific reopening plans on their websites on Monday, March 8.
"School reopening has been a long time coming, almost exactly to the one-year anniversary," Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph wrote in a message to families. "We look forward to having our students and staff members back on campus."
Families with questions about reopening can attend a Zoom community check-in with Rudolph today, Friday, March 5, at 3:30 p.m. Spanish interpretation will be provided. To register, click here.