A sign at Gilroy High School notifies students and faculty of Covid-19 safety guidelines. Photo: Erik Chalhoub
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Middle and high school students will remain in distance learning through the end of the school year after a majority of the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Education rejected a variety of hybrid plans March 25.

Students in grades 5 and under, meanwhile, will return to campus for a few hours a day beginning April 15 after the board approved a hybrid instructional plan on March 18.

The board on March 18 voted against a plan to put secondary students on campus for one hour a day, four days a week. New recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released after that meeting reduced the distance between students in classrooms from six feet to three feet. As a result, Gilroy classrooms could seat roughly 18 students at a time, about half of normal capacity, according to Deborah Padilla, director of curriculum and instruction for secondary school.

With more students able to be seated, that allowed district officials to present a few different hybrid instructional plans, she said.

On March 25, Padilla presented the board with four options for middle and high school students, as well as two options for the Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy.

One proposal, which was the same plan presented at the previous meeting, suggested secondary students be on campus for one hour a day, Tuesday-Friday, before returning home for online instruction, with distance learning all day on Monday.

Other proposals were dependent on the number of students returning, Padilla said, as parents were asked to fill out a survey if they wanted their child to return to campus or remain in distance learning.

Among the proposals was Option 3, a plan to accommodate all students returning, but split into two different cohorts. Mondays would be reserved for all day distance learning, with one cohort on campus for nearly four hours Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and the other group on campus Thursdays and Fridays. Students participating in distance learning would be taught simultaneously, dubbed the “Zoomers and roomers” concept, where teachers would be teaching virtually and in-person at the same time.

Trustee Michelle Nelson said she has heard “mostly negative” feedback on the simultaneous teaching concept, with teachers having to be an “octopus” to juggle between students in person and on the screen.

Trustee Enrique Diaz agreed, adding that the district is fortunate enough to have a group of staff running the virtual board meetings on Zoom.

“A teacher will not have that luxury,” he said. “That’s what they are being asked to do: not teach in person, not teach remotely, but do both.”

Trustee Tuyen Fiack said the district needs to give families a choice, as more than 50 percent responded to a survey indicating that they want their student to return to the classroom.

“I’d hate to ask for our teachers to do more, but I am doing that,” she said. “I have to ask because that is what is best for our students and our families.”

A second grade teacher in the Morgan Hill Unified School District, Trustee Melissa Aguirre said she will be teaching in a simultaneous model shortly, adding that she has faith in the educators.

“It might not be the best idea and the best strategy, but right now it makes the most sense for clarity of schedule for students, families and teachers,” she said.

Board President Mark Good said Gilroy remains a hotspot for Covid-19 in the county, and the district should focus its efforts on reopening fully in August as well as organizing a graduation ceremony for this year’s seniors.

“I would just note that before we vote, we’re voting from the safety of our homes on the other side of a computer screen,” he said.

A motion by Trustee Linda Piceno to approve the one-hour-a-day schedule failed due to a lack of a second. Fiack motioned for Option 3, with Aguirre seconding. But the vote failed with trustees Diaz, Good, Nelson, James Pace and Piceno dissenting.

With no other trustees making a motion, none of the hybrid plans moved forward, leaving full distance learning in place through the end of the school year on June 4.

Teachers, students react

Nearly 70 people wrote to the board before the meeting, consisting mostly of parents, students and teachers.

Melissa Vernon, who has four children in GUSD, said she appreciated the district following the science and health recommendations, but added that no plan would satisfy the entire community.

“Looking at the newly proposed models for secondary students, I see no real progress has been made,” she wrote. “The cons far outweigh the pros.”

Madison Emmert, a junior at Gilroy High School, wrote that while she misses being on campus, she was concerned about spreading the virus to her family. She also added that her working parents would not be able to pick up her and her sister from school in the middle of the day.

“By the time everyone arrives, gets settled and is ready to learn, we will only have 40 minutes of instruction time before it is time to pack up, line up and exit six feet apart,” she wrote.

GUSD teacher Monica Pirozzoli described distance learning as “teaching in a great abyss where if you’re lucky enough you might get your own echo back.” Students need the full attention of their teachers, she wrote, something that is difficult when dealing with the technology glitches of video conferencing software.

“Simultaneous teaching is not an option for teachers to build connections with their students and for them to build connections with each other,” she wrote.

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


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