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.