In common with several other Bay Area school districts, increasing COVID-19 infections and resulting “purple tier” restrictions on public gatherings will likely mean a delay in the proposed early January reopening in lower grades in the 4,000-student Martinez Unified School District.
School officials, including district Superintendent Julie Synyard, said as much this week, even if no final decision on that has been made yet.
At Monday’s regular school board meeting, Synyard also described the complexities of serving the varied desires of district families; some want to keep distance learning in place all year, while others wish schools had been fully open all along, and yet others favor one of various “hybrid” home-and-classroom systems.
The question of how to bring teachers into that mix also precludes easy solutions, Synyard told the school board. Some educators want to come back to the classroom, others are afraid for their own health in such a return, and district administrators also expect complications involving individual teachers’ credentials and how they could hamper flexibility needed to make various strategies being considered work.
For the moment, the Martinez district has tentative plans to bring kindergartners and grade-school students to hybrid learning in separate morning and afternoon “cohorts” four days a week, and junior high students would have a similar home/classroom split. Alhambra High School students would have in-classroom instruction on Thursdays and Fridays, and distance learning the other days, to start.
“There are some challenges with these schedules, and we certainly want to go back and look at some other potential options,” Synyard said.
In the meantime, full distance learning will continue in the Martinez district.
Public commenters calling into Monday’s meeting had a wide variety of thoughts on how and when Martinez schools should reopen.
Rachel Turtledove, who has two children she described as “immuno-compromised,” said she favors continuing distance learning until it’s reasonably safe for kids and teachers to return, perhaps the rest of the school year. “It’s the safest solution for us, people for who COVID is a serious danger.”
A math teacher at Alhambra High, Bob Holsinger, warned of how one infected student could, within the course of a day, pass the virus along to six teachers and as many as 180 classmates.
Some school districts have already experienced COVID-related hiccups. San Ramon Valley Unified School District officials confirmed this week that five staff members and at least three students at that district’s Del Amigo High School have contracted COVID-19 after some classrooms reopened Nov. 17.
Jeff Sherwin questioned the effectiveness of distance learning, at least for many students. He said his son, a high school sophomore, is getting A’s and B’s, despite paying little attention over Zoom during class time.
“That tells me grades aren’t really correlating to achievement,” Sherwin said. “I feel that the bar has been set low, maybe, to avoid parent-teacher conflicts.”
Synyard said that, regardless of delays caused by the purple tier or other factors, she and other district staff will press forward working on a safe learning plan, open classrooms or not.
“Everybody’s working toward the same common goal of ensuring students’ and staff safety, and are really trying to think through all the issues that students and teachers and families face as we deal with the pandemic,” she said.