Public and private elementary schools will soon be able to apply for in-person education waivers in Contra Costa County. (Photo by Andrew Reed/EdSource)

The West Contra Costa Unified School District will resume online classes for almost all students on Aug. 17, followed by an unusual plan to slowly get students back into school buildings — starting with those who are most in need of services.

Under its “student support hubs” plan, the district will bring small groups of students back onto campuses when it is safe to do so with instructional aides, child care staff, teachers and others to help the students with distance learning, officials said at a virtual town hall meeting on July 10. District officials did not say when the student support hubs would go into effect.

Along with providing academic tutoring and special education, the support hub staff would make sure students and their families have access to food and health services, technology and other resources

Over the past week, a growing number of districts have decided to offer mostly remote learning this fall, and the plan offered by the West Contra Costa Unified underscored the many permutations a distance learning program can take. Among districts contacted by EdSource, West Contra Costa, which includes Richmond, appears to be a leader on the notion of “student support hubs” to help students learn how to better use distance learning tools for when they return home.

West Contra Costa Unified’s Student support hubs would address students’ needs beyond academic tutoring (Courtesy of West Contra Costa Unified)

Other districts that are continuing distance learning in the fall also plan to invite small groups of students onto campus for targeted services. Palo Alto Unified plans to offer in-person mental health and support services for students in middle school and high school. Oakland Unified wants to bring their most vulnerable students (such as special education, homeless, foster youth and those two or more grade levels behind academically) in first for one to three days per week. That plan has yet to be negotiated with the district’s teachers’ union.

The plan is based on input the district has received from parent, teacher and community surveys, and seeks to balance safety concerns with providing resources that families say they need, Superintendent Matthew Duffy said in a news release July 9.

“We hope this is an opportunity to serve the students who need the most support while following the health and safety guidelines issued by local, state and federal health officials,” Duffy said. “From the feedback we’ve received, it is clear that safety and equity are the two main priorities for this community.”

One of the district’s surveys found that around 25% of parents were struggling to facilitate distance learning for their children, and felt as though they needed outside help to prevent their students from falling behind, said Tom DeLapp, a district spokesman.

“What we’re doing is taking the home-schooling process out of the living rooms and dining rooms of some of those 25%, and providing them a place with qualified people who can facilitate and help them if they’ve got issues with wellness or technology or nutrition or attendance or English language or academics,” DeLapp said at the virtual meeting, which more than 1,000 people tuned in to.

District officials won’t call the hubs “classrooms,” since it is up to the teacher whether they want to hold live instruction on campuses. Instead, education professionals will manage the hubs to help students who are struggling with distance learning.

Since social distancing and safety precautions would be in place for those students who return to campus, the district can allow only small groups of students at a time. How many students can access the hubs and when they can be brought in will depend on schools’ capacity as well as conditions to ensure safety, Duffy said.

The plan prioritizes serving “high-needs” students based on three tiers. Students who fall under the first tier are the first priority for student support hubs; they include students with high numbers of absences, students from underserved populations, students in special education, foster youth and homeless children. The second tier includes students who have had little participation in distance learning, as well as students who are learning English as a second language and students with mental health concerns. The third tier includes students whose parents have expressed the need for out-of-home support for distance learning.

Under West Contra Costa Unified’s plan for student support hubs, students would be invited back to campuses for in-person assistance based on their level of need. (Courtesy of West Contra Costa Unified)

Eventually, the district plans to phase in 100%

in-person instruction, but DeLapp said that likely won’t be possible until there’s a vaccine to prevent Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. He said spikes in coronavirus infection throughout the upcoming school year could push back the plan’s implementation.

The roles of teachers and other staff in this plan are also up for negotiation with the district’s labor unions, DeLapp said. Those negotiations will go on in the coming weeks, after the district submits its plan to the Contra Costa Office of Education on July 20 for approval.

Story originally published by EdSource.