Plans to reopen for in-person learning at Pleasanton Unified School District took centerstage during the Board of Trustees' first regular online meeting of the year on Thursday.
While Alameda County remains in the state's purple tier of COVID-19 monitoring and the Bay Area's regional ICU capacity has been in the single digits since last week, instruction continues for PUSD students via remote learning, but PUSD officials are progressing with plans to eventually return to the classroom.
Ed Diolazo, assistant superintendent of student support services, told the Board that Governor Gavin Newsom's plan to reopen schools released in late December "pretty much aligned to what we already approved for when we're able to reopen," by staggering the reopening of elementary grades and focusing on small cohorts at the secondary level.
On the district's return timeline, preschoolers and transitional kindergarten through second grade students would be on campus two weeks after the county has been in the red tier for 14 days. Third through fifth grade would return a week later, then grades 6 through 12 the following week.
New legislation proposed as part of the Safe Schools for All plan would deem schools open for in-person instruction eligible for additional funding. The funds would be one-time in nature and are meant to support a district's in-person instruction efforts with mandatory COVID testing, PPE, contact tracing and staffing and vaccinations.
PUSD will also receive about $950,000 in new federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding, from a pool of approximately $6.8 billion allocated to California schools based on Title 1 eligibility.
Assistant superintendent of business services Ahmad Sheikholeslami said the district is "not a very large Title 1 eligibility," and funds will most likely arrive in the 2021-22 fiscal year.
"However, we can expend towards those efforts, and then those monies will be back billed from the federal program in the coming year," Sheikholeslami said.
If state lawmakers approve Newsom's plan, schools that submit a reopening plan by Feb. 1 and reopen by Feb. 15 would be eligible to receive about $450 per average daily attendance (ADA) of additional funding, less the independent learning students.
"That ADA is for the entire school. So as long as we have the students return in the K-5 program by those deadlines, we'd be eligible for that funding," Sheikholeslami said, adding there is also a proposed second round of funding with similar deadlines for early March and that the district is "really tracking that closely."
PUSD would need to satisfy several "key components" to receive state funding including establishing memorandums of understanding with the district's two labor groups, the Association of Pleasanton Teachers and California School Employees Association, and meeting the COVID testing mandates.
"That's where we'll have to look at the cost impacts of what that would be, where they'd get tested and all the protocols related to that. Yet the funds are one time and meant to support COVID testing and contact tracing," Sheikholeslami said.
PUSD also received $6.44 million in one-time Learning Loss Mitigation funds to offset the impact of the pandemic, with about 75% committed or expended to date. Funds were mainly used for PPE as well as materials and technology related to distance learning.
The district's operational preparedness and planning for safety and cleaning, ventilation and air quality, child nutrition services, technology, and transportation remains mostly the same, with new information added accordingly.
During public comment that evening, some parents expressed their frustration with changing public health guidelines and concern about the effects of extended school closures.
Kate Duggan, mother of two PUSD students, said, "My concern is the current plan to reopen, the length of the staggered approach and the new hurdles introduced at every turn from the county. Now we may not be able to go back because of a new cleaning standard. It's an impossible bar to reach for reopening schools this calendar school year, and the district seems rather passive about it versus applying any urgency on one main priority."
Duggan continued, "We've already had to apply a new grading system because of the increase of D's and F's...the failing grades is a much stronger indicator of how remote school is actually going."
Several students also phoned in; one urged caution with returning to campus while the other said the wellness of student mental health outweighed the risk of COVID.
In other business
* In a separate discussion related to school reopening that evening, the trustees received a report on the secondary transition to returning to in-person learning, with particular focus on a recent district survey.
Most of the 1,911 parents who responded to the online survey last month said remote learning for their secondary student was going "Well" (24.6%), "Somewhat well" (32.9%), or "Better than expected" (28.5%), while 14% selected "Not well at all."
The social connection with students and teachers was one of the key motivating factors parents also cited when they thought about their student returning to school, along with academic support and mental health concerns.
Respondents also indicated lack of social interaction and too much screen time were also major concerns, followed by challenges with feedback on student progress.
A total of 949 secondary school students responded at similar rates as parents did to how remote learning was going for them, though only 7% said it wasn't working out well at all.
Students also said social connections and academic support were their top two priorities for going back to school, and their main challenges with distance learning are the lack of face-to-face interaction and excessive screen time.
In July, the board approved plans for both levels that would provide both remote and hybrid instruction, including in-person instruction on assigned days of the week.
With middle- and high-school students normally changing classrooms several times a day, PUSD has been faced with the challenge of figuring out how to safely accommodate in-person instruction and minimize mingling among assigned small cohorts.
Other details in district documents on secondary reopening models were similar to those in the district-wide reopening update, including key considerations for health and safety like cleaning protocols and creating traffic flow patterns in hallways and other shared spaces to facilitate physical distancing.
Though the likelihood of secondary students returning to school in the current school year is unclear, all three principals at Foothill, Amador Valley and Village high schools are making alternate plans for graduation ceremonies in spring.
Officials recently held several online secondary site reopening task force and community town hall meetings, including one on Wednesday night. A virtual student town hall will take place on Jan. 25.