Pleasanton Unified School District is the latest public school district to ask the state for clarity on its safe social grouping requirements for in-person learning, after the Board of Trustees ratified a formal letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom about the matter on Thursday.
Many students have returned to PUSD in recent weeks but in the letter, the Board of Trustees and Superintendent David Haglund requested "a single set of defined metrics that can be relied upon to safely plan to bring all of our students in preschool through high school back to their classrooms for full-time, in-person instruction, five days per week."
"It is absolutely our intention, our goal, as long as everything works out the way we hope that it will, to bring kids back full-time in the fall," Haglund said at the board meeting on Thursday. "That's the plan, and that's what people should be planning for."
Haglund added the letter "is not reflective of our total advocacy efforts either. We've been really pushing on folks from a lot of different angles for a while, so it's good to start seeing the guidance come together."
According to Haglund, conflicting information from experts at multiple levels has often complicated the district's own efforts. "It used to be literally three separate sets of guidance -- the (Centers for Disease Control), the California Department of Health and the Alameda County health department, and they were not well synced together," he said.
In the past few months, the county and state "have been really working hard to align their documents so that they're not unintentionally providing conflicting guidance," but Haglund added, "the one large remaining issue, from my perspective, is the issue of stable grouping requirements."
Haglund then proceeded to read from the state guidance under stable groups for secondary grades: "'CDPH does not require schools to create stable groups', and if you stop reading at that point, you go, 'Cool, we can do a 7-period day, we're good, we're set to go," he said.
"But then you keep reading -- 'Instead, CDPH provides a number of potential approaches to stable groups for middle and high schools'," Haglund said. "Are you saying we don't do them or are you going to tell us how to do them? When we say clear messaging, that's an example of what I'm talking about."
Guidelines around stable cohorts and group sizes influence a number of decisions concerning classroom logistics and staffing. The district also said restricting cohorts or mixing of groups during the school day "severely limits" secondary schools from carrying out a full schedule of classes.
Developing guidance that distinguishes between restrictions for cohorts or group sizes when community infection rates are high or below a specific threshold, "would be very beneficial in allowing us to bring all of our secondary students back to campus in-person for five full days of instruction," staff said, much like how adjustments to physical distancing requirements enabled the district to do with elementary students.
Haglund said that in conjunction with the district's negotiation partners, "we have (memorandums of understanding) that we need to bring into alignment to the guidance" as well.
"The clearer they can be to us, the clearer we can be in our processes of working with our employees and communicating with our parents," Haglund said. "I think this letter helps push out that particular idea, which is one of the few remaining issues that I'm seeing standing in our way."
Trustee Kelly Mokashi said, "It's an important message not only to send to the governor but within the community that we need the guidance, so that we can be most effective in the time given, so that we're not wasting time."
The sole speaker during public comment, parent Kate Duggan, called it "curious when Pleasanton has to get more clarity but we see Berkeley and Albany and other Alameda County cities moving ahead."
"I think if we want all kids to be back in school full-time, the biggest change that we want the state to make is not to extend the learning distance waiver into next year, since that's what killed a lot of momentum to get kids in the classroom this year," Duggan said.
The district "should be expecting a response from the state next week, and I really hope we can still get a commitment to going back full time," Duggan added. "We totally get that there will be changes, but I hope this letter is not riding on a response, and that's going to be the only thing that gets the district to commit to a full-time return."