School Board reverses course, calls for all-distance learning plan to start

To the consternation of many parents — and the relief of others — the PUSD Board of Education announced unexpectedly on Monday night that it would instruct district administrators to present a full distance learning plan for the start of school this fall, citing health and safety considerations (COVID-19 trend lines in the state, locally in Alameda County, and in Piedmont) and trends in other school districts.

The short announcement was made at the top of the meeting, catching many by surprise. (The video of the meeting is posted on the Board Meeting Agendas & Materials page. It was not recorded or broadcast on KCOM.) Because it was not an item on the official agenda, there was no public comment allowed.

In an email to the school community on Tuesday, July 14, Superintendent Randall Booker said he agreed with the Board’s directive.

“In order to bring students and staff back onto our campuses, we were hoping to witness a decrease in the infection rate and hospitalizations.  We were also hoping to see an increase in the access and availability of testing.  Neither of these important criteria are materializing.  In fact, we are witnessing these trend lines headed in the opposite direction,” he said.

A proposal for 100% distance learning will be presented at the July 16 Special Board of Education Meeting (5:00 p.m.). Public comment will be accepted then.

At the July 2 school board meeting, the Board had instructed the district to work on a plan for as much in-person instruction (between four and five days) as possible. Since then, COVID-19 case rates continue to rise and Alameda County has been on a state watchlist for three days as of July 14.

On Monday, the superintendent of Berkeley Unified School District announced he’s recommending starting the school year with an all distance learning model, following Oakland Unified and other Bay Area districts.

Since the spring, district administrators and teachers have spent countless hours planning for a hybrid (or more) model to start the year, a situation that Booker acknowledges has eaten up time.

“We have spent a tremendous amount of human capital on the development and implementation of multiple plans based on multiple scenarios.  We have adjusted the 20-21 instructional calendar.  We have negotiated topics including instructional minutes, bell schedules, student cohorting practices, master scheduling, on-campus safety requirements, and employee leave of absence rights.  We have also planned for and reacted to drastic changes to our budget.  In short, all of these challenges have diluted our effectiveness and efficiency,” he notes.

The benchmarks that PUSD will use to determine when it is safe to return to in-person teaching have yet to be outlined.

“We are partnering with the Alameda County Office of Education, Alameda County Public Health Department, and surrounding districts to develop some semblance of uniformity around these benchmarks.  My goal is to provide the Board, our educators, and the community with recommended safety benchmarks prior to August 17,” he said.

8 thoughts on “School Board reverses course, calls for all-distance learning plan to start

  1. I recently posted this in a Facebook Piedmont Parent group and a friend asked me to post it here.
    I want to give a shout out to the 5 members of our community who serve on the school board. I have had numerous, meaningful interactions with them over the years. They are smart, dedicated people who are passionate about our kids and education. They are also human beings. I feel for them right now. I am on the Camp Augusta board. I can’t tell you how stressful March-May were just handling Augusta decisions. The enormity of decisions we had to make in these uncertain times. It blew. The angry parents, the inability to make everyone happy really, really sucked. That was just making decisions about a summer camp. So, I cannot imagine being a school board member right now. I can’t imagine being Randy Booker right now. Will my rising 5th and 7th graders’ education be different this year? Yes. Will they be OK. Yes. I think they will come out of this with life skills they would not have had otherwise. I second Frannie Gillin Cooley’s post that this site went toxic. Insulting people with a different point of view is not a counter argument. Every issue has legitimate pros and cons. I can’t imagine appearing in court, before a judge, arguing an issue and countering the opposition with a personal insult. Parents insulting parents was not productive. This is a heck of a time to be a decision-maker. I also don’t think it’s fair to submit lengthy letters to the school board, with a multitude of questions, and expect a lengthy reply right now. I’d rather have them spending their time working on a solid plan for the community, then spending countless hours responding to individual families. The school board is made up of volunteers, some of whom work full time and also have families to manage. Everyone is anxious right now, it is natural to want certainty and answers. I think we need to have patience and let them hash it out. Kudos to the members of the school board- volunteer community members- and to Randy Booker for serving PUSD.

  2. We were assured that PUSD will strongly support in-person classes (per AAP: “The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school,” according to the guidance. These coordinated interventions intend “to mitigate, not eliminate, risk…”). It was always a risk to send the kids back to school, and the majority of families were willing to take it. Now, suddenly, without input from the community, it’s back to 100% online. We are disappointed – at least consider having the kids at school for some minimal in-person time. It will make a huge difference. We are also concerned about the online learning tools in fall. How will it change/improve from the chaos we had last semester? (Our kids are at PMS and PHS)

  3. Given the recent increases in cases in our area, state, and country, I don’t think PUSD has any choice. There is no data on what might happen if schools open on top of the US’s current case counts, and I don’t want our kids and teachers to be part of that experiment. I felt more hopeful a few weeks ago that some in-person school would be possible, but the situation has worsened. I am glad the decision is being made now so that we can use the next 4.5 weeks to plan. Hopefully there will be a statewide and nation-wide plan to tamp this virus down ASAP so we have a much safer baseline to start schools upon later in the fall. In the meantime, I am hoping for a structured DL schedule and small study groups to get my family through this.

  4. This is very disappointing even though there has been an outbreak reported for a K-2 summer camp recently although not locally, that suggests whatever prevention measures in place were not effective at containing the infections to a small cohort. So it can happen to this age group although there is not enough data to understand yet the long term impact on their health and the amount of secondary spread generated. I hope that the school district will help families to organize small study groups within private homes. This may help to offset the socializing and learning outcomes concerns, plus allow for group work, while still protecting teachers and the community at large.

  5. Why is the board not listening to the data and experts? Younger children are notably different than older children. Dr. Rutherford was invited to speak at prior board meeting and stated that children 10 and under had little risk of infection or transmission due to lack of receptors for Coronavirus. In Israel, there was no measurable increase in infections when they reopened schools to 1st through 3rd grades and kept in cohorts. An outbreak only occurred when they opened to older ages and disbanded the cohorts.

  6. We hope that Piedmont will review the evidence of schools opening across the world and uses this to guide our decisions. This decision should be based on data, not fear. And, for heavens sake, what does it say when bars open ahead of schools?

  7. I am extremely disappointed for those of us families who came to Piedmont for the Quality schools, with academic, music, art, and PE. Now instead our kids’ education is being robbed, we won’t give to the Giving Campaign as we need to hire help to mind the kids while parents are on non stop calls and work. And meanwhile our kids become less and less active potatoes.

  8. Very short sighted of the School Board. Piedmont rates continue to be low, despite the recent new cases of young adults, most of not all college students and not Piedmont students

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