The Pleasanton Unified School District Board of Trustees voted 3-2 to support reopening local elementary schools for students in transitional kindergarten through fifth grade starting Jan. 4, following a special meeting lasting more than three hours Friday night.
Students would receive remote instruction every morning, and small cohorts of students would each be assigned one specific day of the week for 90 minutes of in-person instruction on campus, according to the proposal.
Trustees Joan Laursen and Jamie Yee voted against the proposal, with Laursen stating she wanted students back sooner. Yee was also open to an earlier return date, but not until after Nov. 30.
Friday was also the first time most trustees -- except Board President Steve Maher and Yee -- and cabinet attended an in-person board meeting at the district headquarters since statewide sheltering and distance learning started in March. Everyone physically present wore face masks and maintained physical distancing, and plastic partitions were installed between seats.
At a special virtual town hall meeting the night before the board vote, Superintendent David Haglund told PUSD families, "We're learning as we consult with experts, and so the encouragement to reopen schools at the elementary level in particular has been given by the public health department."
Officials said they will hold meetings with stakeholders for feedback in the near future while finalizing details, and are preparing to submit a detailed reopening plan to the Alameda County Public Health Department and Alameda County Office of Education.
PUSD spokesman Patrick Gannon told the Weekly there are no plans currently for grades 6-12 to return until the district gets authorization from the county, adding they should have more information by or before Oct. 26.
Some staff who phoned in during the public hearing on Friday said district administrators did not reach out for their input regarding the draft reopening plan.
Though "glad to see many things" in the plan for personal protective equipment (PPE) and protocol in the event of a campus outbreak, Association of Pleasanton Teachers (APT) President Michelle VerKuilen said she is "concerned about how decisions to reopen are being made."
"Many of you may be asking right now, 'Why are you glad to see this? Haven't the teachers seen this plan?'," VerKuilen said. "No, this is the first time any of us are seeing this plan and, yes, that makes me concerned, because I know a majority of this community would think teachers were involved in this plan, but … this is all being discussed without us."
VerKuilen continued, "I am concerned when I see training listed that all employees supposedly had, which we did not. I am concerned when it says we have negotiated in-person returns to campus -- we have not. No plan has been presented to our bargaining team to negotiate."
Amanda Brown, mother of three PUSD students, said, "When we force schools to reopen and create an exodus of our primary teachers who request leave, this leaves us with short-term substitutes instead. How is this a good solution?"
"We are giving parents the choice between remote learning with our primary teacher or in person learning with a substitute. We shouldn't push out our primary teachers to gain an hour and a half of in person instruction a week with a substitute," Brown said.
Fairlands Elementary teacher Cheryl Atkins, who "spent a lot of time on the (reopening) task force this summer," said the group "never discussed concurrent teaching" with the district. At the moment, Atkins starts her Zoom groups at 8 in the morning, going until just after one o'clock in the afternoon.
"If we go to this afternoon time, there's no more hours in the day to give, so if we go to small groups at school, from 1:30 to 4, well, then the morning time has to give," Atkins said. "Because the time that I'm using right now, from 1:30 to 3, with all the planning and preparing, I'm going to need time during the day to do that. One thing has to give for something else, we can't do it all."
Atkins also wanted to know "how can we do this feasibly, safely, and how can we take things off of our plate, not add to what we're already doing."
"We need more discussion -- I would've liked to have been able to have that discussion with the K-2 and Dr. Haglund before coming to the board tonight, so that we could've talked and had solutions together," Atkins said.
Amador Valley teacher Sam Weaver said the board was "downplaying" the risk of reopening, while Valley View Elementary instructor Leah Perez stated she was "afraid that a vote for us to return to our classrooms will be a decision to put the health of students, teachers and families in our community at risk."
Perez pointed to another current nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases and said, "This should be alarming to all of us as should the idea of having students return to classes during the flu seasons when we have been warned of the surge we are currently seeing."
"We'd be careless to ignore the scientific evidence that our best doctors and universities are putting forward," she added.
Later during discussion, Laursen responded to recent public criticism and said voting to reopen was "probably the hardest decision" she's made as a trustee.
"I understand emotions run high but, for some of the emails we've gotten, to assume that we don't care about the health and safety of staff -- when we have described to you all the steps that we're taking to ensure safety of our staff and our students -- is insulting," Laursen said.
"We're relying on the health department for their guidance, they've given us guidance, we're going beyond the guidance," Laursen added. "We're doing more safety steps than is required. The easiest thing for me to say is, 'sure, let's do the whole year remote … that's the easiest thing to vote."
Laursen finished, "This isn't my favorite plan, this is a compromise plan … but this is a start."
Gannon clarified on Monday that Lydiksen Elementary School is also expected to reopen at the same time as other schools in January. The site is currently undergoing extensive renovations and remodeling.
Small cohorts of select students with identified high needs returned to some PUSD campuses Oct. 14 to partake in a newly launched pilot supervised learning program. Students in the cohorts meet onsite, where they are supervised by a classified employee while their instructor teaches remotely.