Students Return to In-Person Learning Currently on Hold

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(Contributed Photo)
Members of Glorietta Elementary School’s Ensemble choir have been working with music directors Ron Pickett and Christina Holling and the ensemble choirs at the other elementary schools on a holiday concert via Zoom. The group of 110 students recorded “Like It’s Christmas” by the Jonas Brothers before Thanksgiving and plan on a second recording following the Thanksgiving break.

    Students, parents, teachers and staff of the Orinda Union School District (OUSD) were thrown a curve ball on Nov. 16 when Governor Gavin Newsom and public health officials announced many counties in the state, including Contra Costa, had moved into the most restrictive purple tier.
    “What this means for OUSD is we cannot open our elementary schools for in-person learning to students in grades TK-2 during the week of Nov. 30 as planned,” said Superintendent Dr. Carolyn Seaton, who expressed “deep disappointment” in having to postpone in-person learning.
    According to the California Department of Public Health, “[a] county must remain in a tier for a minimum of three weeks before being able to advance to a less restrictive tier.” Seaton urged everyone to remain vigilant and follow all safety protocols to help move the county back to the red tier.
    “Working together, we can make a difference in the spread of this virus, and we can achieve our collective goal of returning students to our school campuses as soon as possible,” she said.
    When schools are able to open, students in TK/K will attend a combination of in-person and distance learning from 9 a.m. – 1:50 p.m. with grades 1-5 attending from 8:30 am – 2:50 p.m. Orinda Intermediate School is currently finalizing its schedule.
    In the elementary schools, each class will be divided into Cohort A and Cohort B, with all students attending a distance learning session with their entire class each morning. Mondays will be a “flex day,” without students on campus. A shorter morning meeting will be followed by such distance learning activities as music and specialized learning and projects. The day also allows for teacher preparation. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, Cohort A will attend in-person classes with Cohort B attending Wednesday and Friday afternoons. When one cohort is at the school, the other group will be engaged in such asynchronous work as group projects, special assignments, individualized reading/writing and other work assigned during the morning meeting.
    Many parents have expressed frustration with it taking so long to begin in-person learning, while others still think it’s unsafe to do so. The consensus, however, was distance learning doesn’t work for a number of students, especially the younger ones. Parent Marie Olson commented through email at the district’s Nov. 9 board meeting saying she thought the district needed to offer in-person learning more than just a few hours a day. She wrote how her kindergarten student’s only experience with school is through Zoom. “When she thinks about school, she thinks Zoom. That’s the only thing she knows, resulting in her saying every single day ‘I hate school.’”
    Parent Julia King was also anxious to begin in-person learning; however, she didn’t think the schedules allowed enough time for parents with children in multiple grades to get them where they needed to be.
    “We’re constantly evaluating and fine tuning the schedules, and this forced delay in reopening may have us making a few changes such as possibly bringing all the students back at once rather than starting with the younger grades and then adding others,” said Seaton.
    OUSD will also be testing cameras in one classroom at each elementary school and at OIS. The cameras will be pointed at the teacher but show a much wider view of projects and other items in the classroom than currently afforded by Zoom. The District hopes this will be an alternative to distance learning, allowing the cohort at home to view what’s going on in class.
    While teachers and administrators deal with schedules and curriculum, Director of Facilities Stuart House is seeing to the schools themselves. California School Inspections Inc. has been contracted to provide COVID-19 consulting on school sites to ensure all are in compliance with the health and safety guidelines of the Center for Disease Controls and Contra Costa Health Services. The consultation makes certain all provisions for student and staff safety are properly in place.
    “California School Inspections works with many school districts and provides another level of safety through their very thorough, precise inspections and meticulous attention to detail,” said OUSD Board President Cara Hoxie.
    OUSD’s additional safety precautions include changing all HVAC unit air filters to MERV-13, procuring no-touch thermometers, renting hand-washing stations, purchasing hydrogen peroxide sprayers for frequently touched surfaces and installing sanitizer dispensing pedestals at all schools and the district office.
    “We are looking at what, in this imperfect world, we can offer our kids” Hoxie said.
    This includes looking into childcare at the various elementary school locations. The district hopes to have something up and running at Wagner Ranch after winter break. They are also discussing possible childcare options with the City of Orinda’s Parks and Rec Department.
    The coronavirus has taken its toll on the district’s enrollment as well, with more than 108 students leaving for private schools or home schooling as of mid-November. “All of the districts are down right now. Lafayette has lost over 200 students so far,” said Seaton.
    While the virus has posed myriad problems for the school district, Seaton noted some good had come out of it. “It has really brought our teachers together. They are working more closely than ever before to do the best they can for their students.”
    For more information on the Hybrid Plus program, go to www.orindaschools.org.

(Sally Hogarty, Photographer)
Third-grade teacher Dara Slevin readies her classroom at Wagner Ranch for the start of in-person classes on Dec. 1. She's placing stickers that designates desks for Cohort A and Cohort B, which will attend on different days.

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