After a detailed overview of three different instructional plans and in-depth discussion that lasted four hours, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously during its Tuesday night meeting that students will learn remotely for the 2020-21 school year once classes begin Aug. 11.
Instruction will take place virtually for now as the COVID-19 health crisis continues, but Superintendent David Haglund said the district "will revisit the status of this decision monthly during our regularly scheduled board meetings and implement our plan (to reopen) when data suggests that it's safe to do so."
"This is a strange situation we find ourselves in and it's never happened before, at least not in the last 100 years," Haglund said during the board's online meeting. "We're all having to figure it all out as we go."
Once it is deemed safe, families will have their choice of enrolling in either the hybrid model that would allow their student to receive in-person instruction, long-term independent study or FLEX Academy, a long-term distance learning option for elementary and secondary students.
A recently updated pre-registration intent data form with 12,130 respondents showed a slight 5% drop but that most families -- nearly 85% -- still preferred a hybrid learning model for their children when classes start. Students who eventually attend school in person would do so "when it is safe" on a staggered schedule several days a week.
Nimarta Grewal, PUSD technology services coordinator, said that staff could not recommend in-person lessons at this time "as we do not have confidence that we can implement the group sizes and physical distance as needed, along with meeting the sanitization guidelines that are currently called for."
PUSD said it will "enable parent choice, when and where possible" but noted that returning to school hinges on adhering to health guidelines and other factors like following strict physical distancing, cleaning and disinfecting, and PPE protocol.
"All of our plans are really subject to our ability to meet the health and safety standards provided to us by county public health," said Ed Diolazo, assistant superintendent of student support services.
"In the last few months we've had to adjust and so that's really the reality of where things stand at this point. If the restrictions become more constricted from county public health, then we will have to adjust our plans for that, and as they are relaxed, then we will adjust for that as well," he added.
PUSD officials told the Weekly that all 15 sites will eventually reopen "in a phased and prioritized way," starting with their youngest children in grades TK-2, special day classes and at-risk youths, who would attend in-person classes on staggered schedules several days a week. Along with requiring students and staff to wear face masks or shields, maintain physical distancing, frequently wash their hands and conduct self-screenings before coming to school, small student cohorts will be established to lower the risk of virus transmission.
Teachers will be able to teach multiple cohorts, as long as they wear a face covering and practice physical distancing, though the district noted that this will likely be difficult when teaching younger children who are less likely to remember to keep their distance. That issue factored greatly in staff's consideration and recommendation to have stable cohort groupings in the lower grades.
"I want to assure the community that when we do begin to bring students back, we will start with our small stable cohorts," assistant superintendent Janelle Woodward said. "That would allow us to have students in groups of 12 and ensure that we are able to attend to the cleaning needs and sanitizations needs of our campus."
Following the presentation, Board President Steve Maher asked the cabinet if they could set a timetable for reopening campuses and what the criteria would be.
"If we say 'Hey, in two weeks we're going back,' that may be (difficult) for students, parents and teachers," Maher said.
Haglund replied that he would "love to be able to hear the specific date when we will bring everybody back" but said his concern is providing direct instruction for students who need it sooner than later.
"We have some very young students who are learning to read in TK through grades 2, and teaching reading remotely is a very difficult thing to do," Haglund said. "While I agree that it might be easier and more practical to have that type of a target at the secondary level, for our students with special needs and for our younger students, they're really working on those foundational skills."
Haglund added, "I'm hesitant to put a deadline that is that far out in the future. The reality is we may not be opening because of the health guidelines any way, so I just want to keep my eye on those most vulnerable students and be able to respond as soon as we're able."
Given the "levels of complexities" involved with keeping secondary students in their assigned social bubbles, he said, "Until there is some very clear guidance as to what we can and can't do, I really foresee that we'll be out on the longer term at the secondary level."
"I just want to be very sensitive to not setting arbitrary guidelines that might inhibit our ability to reach our youngest students," Haglund concluded.
Association of Pleasanton Teachers president Michelle VerKuilen said though teachers are "saddened" by not teaching in person, the recommendation for remote learning has been well-received.
"The most important criteria we must use in moving forward into a new school year is the health and safety of all. We cannot educate if we are all not safe," VerKuilen said.
Several residents who phoned in during public comment also expressed their preference for distance learning but student board member Derek Dressler said families need the option of sending their kids to school and that "it must not be about when we can reopen schools safely but how we can reopen in-person schooling for our families safely on Aug. 11."
"I fully expect this board to adhere to all guidelines. However, I also expect you to take into account the risk you could be putting families in, should a hybrid model not be adopted at all levels," Dressler said. "This district has said repeatedly that they will not reopen schools until they feel safe that they can do it safely for students and staff. That's great, but we might be in the same predicament we are now for years to come."