Unpacking the District’s Reopening Plan

3 mins read

In December, the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) released a school reopening plan for the Spring of 2021. The plan was constructed by the Academic Operations Task Force, which is made up of SUHSD board members, teachers, staff, parents, etc. It is not an official plan, considering it still requires approval from San Mateo County and may only potentially go into effect, depending on the severity of covid-19 cases.  

The main priorities of the reopening plan as noted by Menlo Atherton’s principal, Simone Rick-Kennel are, “Keeping the community safe, maintaining the level of quality instruction, and gradually resuming business as usual.” 

In order to do this, the plan lays a foundation for four reopening phases. Phase One allowed for athletic and support cohorts to meet on campus and was held throughout the Summer of 2020. 

Since the beginning of the 20-21 school year M-A has been in Phase Two of reopening, which includes synchronous instruction and “bubble cohorts,” or gatherings of 14 or less, for specific groups like special education, athletics, etc. Kennel explained, “We have five academic support cohorts on campus and several co-curricular cohorts, mostly for academic support,  as well as athletic conditioning cohorts. They are functioning well.”

According to the plan, “Phase 3 will be a migration from bubble cohort to stable cohort [any number of students that can safely socially-distance depending on room size], allowing for students and staff to meet in larger, socially distanced groupings, per the San Mateo County Office of Education Pandemic Framework.” Phase Four will involve more synchronous instruction on campus, but it will be constructed based on parent and community feedback. 

In accordance with the phases for reopening, once students have returned to campus, their safety will be ensured based on the Four Pillars of Health and Safety. This encompasses the categories entitled Health & Hygiene, Face Coverings, Physical Distancing, and Limited Gatherings.  

 The First Pillar, Health & Hygiene, will require campus to be mapped out to avoid congestion in hallways and the custodial staff to disinfect bathrooms and classrooms between classes. Upon entering school students and staff will sanitize their hands and confirm that they don’t have covid-19 symptoms or a temperature above 100.4 degrees. 

Pillar Two will require all students and staff to wear face coverings on campus. 

The Third Pillar, Physical Distance, establishes that once M-A reopens there will never be more than half the student body on campus at once. Hallways will be marked with one way arrows and classrooms will be filled to the maximum capacity possible following distancing guidelines. Students who take the bus will be seated from the back of the bus to the front and will maintain a six-foot distance. 

The Fourth Pillar, Limited Gatherings, requires larger gatherings to be held online and that students will not be able to eat lunch on campus or drink from communal water fountains. Currently the District has only drafted for partial reopening in phase two, but details regarding lunch time will be explored in depth once reaching Phase Three and Four. 

In terms of enforcing this pillar and the inability to have lunch on campus, junior Alexa Garcia-Gonzalez said, “I think I’d be okay with it because of covid, but I also think it’s inconsiderate towards the students. It would deprive students of a break where they can be stress free and relaxed after dealing with all of our classes.” 

Freshman Taylor Speckman added, “I think that although lunch breaks are important for focus in school, in the time we are in right now, it is more crucial that we get in person school.”

Once students have integrated into in-person learning, if 5% of staff, students, or teachers test positive within a period of 14 days, the SUHSD can close cohorts and is prepared to be able to 100% virtual instruction. All students who attend in-person instruction must sign a Campus Participation Agreement to demonstrate their willingness to comply with guidelines and their acceptance of risk. 

In terms of when M-A will reopen for the general student population (Phase Three/Phase Four), Kennel said, “Any return to campus for in person instruction will be tied to CA reopening tiers so it is hard to say when; and dependent on the number of teachers available and students who want to return.” 

While there is lots of uncertainty regarding reopening, the SUHSD and the Academic Operations Task Force plan to adjust the reopening plan accordingly. It is accessible here

Jane White is a senior and an Editor-in-Chief of the M-A Chronicle. Over the course of her time in digital journalism, she has enjoyed writing personal opinions and research-heavy features. In her free time, Jane loves to catch up on her reading, hang out with friends, and play guitar. This year, Jane is looking forward to bringing journalism back to the classroom and making connections with her staff and the M-A community.

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