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While the Liberty Union High School District’s (LUHSD) hopes for a January return to the classroom were dashed in the wake of surging COVID-19 cases, the board still approved its hybrid reopening plan.

The plan received approval at its Nov. 18 meeting. According to LUHSD Superintendent Eric Volta, the first quarter grades illustrate a desperate need to return to campus in order for students to take advantage of on-site interventions. Volta reported that, when compared to figures in 2019, the rise of students right now with a GPA below 1 has raised from 4.38% to 13.9%; students with a GPA below 1.99 has increased from 14.35% to 27.61%.

“The events of the last semester have shown just how important the ritual of going to school is to a vast majority of our students,” he wrote in a letter home to families after the meeting.

Volta later pointed out the struggle of attempting to reopen the district when the state has shut down schools with clear timelines and offered guidance to reopen but hasn’t provided a set time of return — leaving the question of “when” to hang in the air. While he pondered the long-term effects of keeping students away from the structure of the classroom, he also recognized the challenge of containing a virus among students who may not adhere to health guidelines.

“Opening up at a time when the transmission rates are increasing would definitely complicate the reopening,” he continued.

But despite Volta’s support for a return to campuses in a hybrid format, the district remains in a wait-and-see pattern following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Nov. 16 press conference, during which time he broke the news that 41 counties in the state — including Contra Costa — are now in the most restrictive purple tier. For school sites, that means those that haven’t already reopened can’t.

In order to move back down to any lower tier, it will take two weeks of lower tier data, Volta explained.

“With the holiday season coming up, health officials are predicting that we remain in the purple tier through the approved Jan. 12 reopening date,” he continued. “This being the case, we find ourselves again in a position of not knowing exactly when our students will return to school. If we cannot open on Jan. 12, it is our hope to return as soon as possible in the third quarter.”

LUHSD Trustee Yolanda Pena-Mendrek agreed with Volta that students have been negatively impacted by the remote learning circumstances.

“It is obvious that our students are not being successful in the distance learning mode,” she said, referring to the district’s increase in low GPAs when compared to last year’s scores. “Consequently, when they come back to the classroom, we will need to provide ample opportunities for remediation.”

She noted that while it’s heartbreaking to see how students are being affected, the district needs to follow county guidelines.

“I want to tell you that I cannot wait for students to be able to go back to school; go back to see their friends; go back to listen to their teachers; be in a very safe learning environment,” she said.

The plan approved by the district incorporated the current health orders and more than a month’s worth of deliberation among faculty, staff, administration and the board. It keeps the A/B calendar intact to allow for movement to and from distance learning. Students will be required to attend class at school and at home. Students will be excused for lunch to discourage congregating.

It will allow teachers to continue lesson planning in the same fashion they are now. Teachers will be required to, at a minimum, keep the at-home students online for 10 minutes and assign asynchronous work. But teachers may also require the at-home students to remain online for the entire class hour depending on the lesson.

Families will also be given the choice to remain in full distance learning under the hybrid option. Students opting for 100% distance learning within the Hybrid Model will only log into their classes via zoom each class meeting and attend class virtually.

The plan detailed a host of reopening considerations and requirements -- from mask and cleaning protocols to ventilation and contact tracing. In-person interventions will be permitted at the end of day for students, and tutoring must be scheduled in advance to guarantee safe social distancing. To review the full plan, visit https://bit.ly/thepressnet_LibertyPlan.

“I wish the community could understand how detrimental this pandemic learning mode is to our students,” Pena-Mendrek said. “I beg of them to support our district’s efforts ... We will wait for county health officers to give us the green light.”

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