WCC School Board Approves Hybrid Reopening Plan

Boy in classroom wearing a face shield and writing in a composition notebook
(“Tanner – Back to School 2020” by Jill Carlson / CC BY 2.0)

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By Edward Booth

The West Contra Costa Board of Education voted 4-1 Friday to approve a voluntary hybrid learning plan that will open district schools for in-person learning starting April 19.

“We believe the proposal takes into account all of our facilities and operational capacity, it respects that individuals are in different places in their readiness to come back, and it focuses on high priority students while allowing options for all,” Superintendent Matthew Duffy said.

Duffy said core in-person school days will take place Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. These are structured around a 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule. The plan also includes two blocks of “intervention time” before and after the core school day, either from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. or 2 to 4 p.m., depending on the school site. That’s intended to give the district’s highest need students additional support. Social activities and clubs will take place 2 to 4 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays.

Duffy said in-person schooling will work in two ways, depending on the circumstances. The first involves a teacher teaching in-person and online students simultaneously. The second option is supervised, in-person distance learning, where students will have a qualified adult working with them to help get them connected to online classes.

Ultimately, Duffy said, the district decided to not hold school on Thursdays because of how much energy it’s devoting to community meal service and because it wants the model to work as well as possible.

In-person class sizes will be small — 10 to 15 students, according to Duffy. The district designed the model to allow six feet of distancing and will move forward with that, despite updated guidance from the California Department of Public Health last week that halves the distance requirement to three feet.

“If we have any limited capacity, our highest-needs students will take the first available seats,” Duffy said. “We believe that we can through this agreement serve the families who do want to come in during this time.”

The district will also distribute snacks to students, Duffy said.

All staff returning to in-person work will receive a $750 stipend, bolstered by an additional $2,500 once the district confirms its eligibility for Assembly Bill 86 funding.

Legislators passed AB 86 and Senate Bill 86 earlier this month to give a $6.6 billion budget package as an incentive for schools to reopen. Duffy said the district believes it will meet the requirements to receive about $9 million in funding. That amount goes down 1% each instructional day that the district isn’t holding in-person schooling, starting April 1.

Duffy said families will need to commit to either in-person learning or distance learning once the model starts April 19. It ends June 8.

“We are going to ask families to make that call. If they want to be with us in-person for those last seven or eight weeks, fantastic,” Duffy said. “If they want to stay home because that’s what they believe is right, that’s also great. We just need to know one way or the other.”

Duffy also said the district will carry out an in-person summer support program. It plans to be fully in-person starting in the fall.

Jamela Smith-Folds was the only board member to vote against moving forward with the program. She said school sites aren’t ready and kicking off the model will overwork district staff.

“The truth is you cannot give sites responsibilities without resources, and resources means money,” Smith-Folds said. “You must hire counselors and psychologists. The truth is we don’t have the counselors and psychologists to help with all the trauma and the social-emotional needs that these kids are going to be coming back with.”

>>>Read: Distance Learning Raises Questions About Mental Health

The other board members acknowledged the process of coming up with the plan has been bumpy. But, they said, moving forward was the best option.

Board member Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy said he shares a lot of concerns with the public, but he’s optimistic that the plan will support as many students as possible, especially those with the highest needs.

Board president Mister Phillips said his motivation throughout the reopening process has been making the situation better for children.

>>>Read: Distance Learning Is Failing Our Children

“This plan that we are proposing in my opinion could go further, in my opinion. We should follow the guidelines that are put out by the state and federal government,” Phillips said. “But I don’t get to create these things unilaterally. I don’t get to create these things in a box. And I do believe that this is the best plan that we can pass today for this spring. And I believe that I have an obligation to do what I can to help the most children in the moment.”

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