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October 20: Reopening Updates from Superintendent Geisick

Dear SUSD Families and Staff,

On October 13, Santa Clara County moved into the State of California’s Orange “Moderate” Tier 3 (2-4.9% COVID-19 positivity rate). With the move to the Orange Tier, we can make more definitive strides towards reopening campuses while also maintaining the option to remain in Distance Learning through the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

As we move towards reopening for in-person hybrid learning, it is essential that families and staff be mindful of these important factors. Please read carefully:

  • As a learning community, we must remain sensitive to our teachers, staff, and families. Each household has different risks, concerns, and confidence threshold for returning to in-person instruction. Please be respectful of this.

  • Reopening schools for in-person learning will be a complex process where both students and staff need to be matched based on readiness to return to in-person instruction and creating balanced sized stable student cohorts.

    For elementary school students, this may necessitate a change of teacher or elementary school for the remainder of the current school year for BOTH Hybrid and Distance learners.

    For Redwood Middle School students, class schedules and teachers may change based on which staff are able to return for in-person instruction.

  • Students moving to a Hybrid model, while receiving the significant benefits of in-person live contact with teachers and peers, may have less synchronous instructional hours. The current Distance Learning model provides more live teacher instructional minutes than a Hybrid model.

  • As we’ve learned from the reopening of Tree House, on-campus assessments, and Redwood Special Education, the logistics for masking, disinfection, PPE, cleaning, and health screening are significant. It is one thing to read about it and another thing to implement and practice day-to-day. However we are gaining experience and refining processes. This gradual reopening approach helps build confidence in staff and families. We will continue to phase in reopening versus having 100’s of students return at once.

  • Santa Clara County Office of Education is working to bring on-site COVID-19 testing through Curative for public school staff.

  • Regular COVID-19 testing for students and staff will be encouraged (via on-site program, healthcare provider, sccfreetest.org, etc).

  • Local health data changes could cause a sudden shift in county health directives.

  • All of us need to continue following county health guidelines regarding social distancing, gatherings, and face coverings.

At this time, our timeline estimate is:

  1. Currently:
    Special Education students are attending class on-site at Redwood and Foothill with more students being added gradually. Some assessments and services are being offered in-person. Tree House is beginning its 3rd session without incident.
  2. By October 23:
    Families and staff will receive a non-binding “pulse check” survey to assess readiness to return to Hybrid in-person instruction or remain in Distance Learning, as well as preference for the AM/PM vs. MT/ThF Hybrid models. We are reevaluating the AM/PM half-day Hybrid model now that there is evidence that contact touchpoints are a less significant source of virus transmission compared to in-person respiratory aerosol, therefore less time is needed between cohorts for cleaning.
  3. Through early November: 
    Based on the “pulse check” survey results, district leadership will parse out possible reopening options and determine how each may affect student placements with their teacher and/or school, sibling placements, staffing, instruction, budget, facilities and logistics. 
  4. Early November:
    Open up Learning Labs for identified students to attend Distance Learning classes on campus with staff supervision.
  5. Mid-November: 
    Communicate the survey findings and possible reopening options to the Board of Trustees. The board may take action based on the survey results, viable options, district leadership recommendations, current enrollment, county health status, and COVID-19 testing availability. 
  6. Date to be determined:
    If appropriate, publish a detailed campus reopening plan based on board actions and send a binding survey to families to commit to Distance Learning or Hybrid Learning for the remainder of the school year.

For your reference, below are the K-8 reopening statuses of districts in the area:

  • Cambrian: phased in return by grade starting mid-January
  • Campbell: remain in distance learning though January 3 except for Learning Labs for some students
  • Cupertino: remain in distance learning though at least January
  • Los Altos: TK-1 returned mid-October, grades 2-5 will phase in through November, grades 6-8 in mid-late January
  • Los Gatos: remain in distance learning through at least January 2021 except for targeted small groups
  • Mountain View Whisman: remain in distance learning, revisit reopening in January
  • Palo Alto: TK-1 returned mid-October, grades 2-5 will phase in October-November, grades 6-8 to be determined
  • San Jose: remain in distance learning through at least January
  • Sunnyvale: remain in distance learning through at least January

I also wanted to share some highlights from the October 15th school board meeting. Staff presented updates and the distance learning survey results. Key takeaways include:

  • Majority of SUSD students have adjusted well to the distance learning schedule. 
  • Teachers and students miss seeing each other in person but meaningful connections are being made.
  • The amount of synchronous “live” learning and screen time is in the right range for most students. Teacher/student check-ins have been essential.
  • Staff are reaching out to students who are struggling emotionally or academically.
  • Concerns were raised about work-life balance for teachers. The demands of distance learning are much more than being in the classroom: lessons need to be optimized for online learning, collaboration with teachers often takes place during off-hours, the communication load via email is significant. Many teachers are working well into their evenings and weekends causing stress and ill-health. Work-life balance is needed. Educational Services will be working with the teachers to see what modifications can be made.
  • Saratoga Education Foundation classes are beneficial. 
  • Technical issues have been ironed out except for the shortage of new Chromebooks (nationwide shortage).
  • Learning Labs will be started next month so that we can bring back some students for supervision during distance learning.

District leadership teams including administrators, teachers, support staff, bargaining groups, and parent leadership will continue working collaboratively together. While we are all encouraged by the lower case rates in our county, we remain ever mindful that COVID-19 continues to pose a serious risk, especially as colder weather will move more activities indoors.

Ken Geisick Ed. D
Superintendent