School districts in East County made decisions on how to reopen schools this week.
Decided upon in meetings held Monday, July 6, the boards from the Brentwood Union School District (BUSD) and the Oakley Union Elementary School District (OUESD) unanimously determined all students will begin the next academic school year with continued distance learning. This will mean 100% virtual classes until it is deemed safe to enter school in a hybrid format. The first day of school for BUSD is July 28 and OUESD will begin July 29. As of press time, the school district boards in Knightsen and Byron were set to vote on their return schedules on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.
For the Liberty Union High School District (LUHSD), which oversees the area’s three high schools — Liberty, Heritage and Freedom — the board also held a meeting July 6. While the board decided to push off the first day of school to Aug. 10, it did decide to bring students back to the campus in a hybrid model. Students will be divided into two groups, with each group attending school every other day.
“This will allow for the best possible social distance in classrooms and while at school,” LUHSD Superintendent Eric Volta wrote in a letter to families. “More detailed bell schedules, calendars, schedules, walk-thru dates and information regarding the above will be forthcoming from your school and other district departments.”
Volta confirmed that no decision has yet been made on whether high school sports will return.
“That will be a (North Coast Section and California Interscholastic Federation) decision,” he said, referring to the bodies that oversee high school sports; CIF announced in mid-June that it will decide by July 20 whether fall sports will continue as currently scheduled.
BUSD Superintendent Dana Eaton noted any possible physical return to school would depend on COVID-19 numbers and Contra Costa Health Services guidance.
“The school board knows that anything less than a traditional return to school will continue to cause significant challenges for our families and staff,” Eaton wrote in a letter to families. “Please understand that all of us want nothing more than to have all of our students and staff back on campus, but we feel a tremendous responsibility to ensure that we do not put the health of over 9,500 students and over 1,000 staff members at risk.”
Greg Hetrick, OUESD superintendent, also sent along a letter to families following the special meeting.
“In short, you can expect distance learning for the start of the 2020-2021 school year to include a communication plan between home and school, the monitoring of daily student attendance and direct daily instruction and opportunities for extra supports to be provided electronically,” Hetrick stated.
Prior to the votes, the boards for BUSD and OUESD listened to various speakers, including those from the public, teachers and task force members, who had conducted studies on possible options for what a return to school could look like. The surveys that were submitted to families this summer had outlined three options: a full return to the class, a hybrid model of rotating schedules, or continued distance learning.
One public speaker during the BUSD meeting urged the board to wait until September to start school.
“California is now in a crisis; hospitalizations are up 30%,” said Ben Kellogg. “We’re now seeing over 10,000 cases per day in California. We’ve been complacent and have allowed economic issues to overtake health concerns.”
While the boards considered a handful of variables for each option, some speakers urged the board members to consider the rising number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county as a reason to not rush back into the classroom. Some were in favor of returning in a hybrid form. Monica Herney, a teacher in the OUESD, wrote in to say kindergarten and transitional kindergarten teachers have unique needs when developing a teacher-student rapport with younger children.
OUESD board members at first considered delaying the return date to sync with the Liberty Union High School District, as many of the Oakley families have siblings who attend high school in that district — a point made by OUESD Board President Kim Beede. However, the board voted to maintain the back-to-school date of July 29.
“We know this decision is going to cause a disruption to our school community as anything short of a return to school without restrictions would do so,” Hetrick continued. “I thank you for your patience and support during this difficult and truly unprecedented time.”