A sign at Gilroy High School notifies students and faculty of Covid-19 safety guidelines. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Students in grades 5 and under will soon return to campus for a few hours a day, after the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Education approved a hybrid instructional plan on March 18.

However, middle and high schoolers may have to wait a little longer, as the board rejected a plan that would have put those students on campus for only an hour a day.

The board will hold a special meeting on March 25 at 6pm to review a revised plan for secondary students.

Under the hybrid plan, students in preschool through second grade will return April 15, being on campus from 8:30-11:15am Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday, and return to distance learning at home from noon to 2pm. Wednesdays will be reserved for distance learning all day.

Students in grades 3-5 will follow the same schedule, but return April 19.

Parents must fill out a form by March 25 to determine if they want their student to participate in the hybrid schedule, or continue with full-time distance learning.

The plan was drafted by the district’s Reopening Planning Committee, which was formed in May. The committee recommended that the board consider reopening schools when Santa Clara County has been in the Red Tier of the state’s reopening framework for five consecutive days, and when the Covid-19 case rate in Gilroy is below 25 per 100,000 residents for at least five consecutive days.

The county moved into the Red Tier on March 3, and Gilroy’s average case rate has been consistently below the target daily since March 7, according to Santa Clara County Public Health data.

The committee also recommended a plan for grades 6-12 to return April 20. The proposal suggested those students be on campus for one hour a day, Tuesday-Friday, before returning home for online instruction, with distance learning all day on Monday.

But the plan was met with opposition from students, parents, teachers and board members, who questioned the logistics of the proposal.

The board voted 5-2 to approve the hybrid plan for preschool through fifth grade, with Trustees Melissa Aguirre and Linda Piceno dissenting. A motion to approve the plan for 6th-12th grade failed due to the lack of affirming votes.

Trustee Enrique Diaz said he supported the elementary plan, but was concerned that staff didn’t have a “complete buy in” for the proposals. He pointed to a survey of nearly 5,000 GUSD parents and guardians that showed that 60 percent of respondents wished to return to in-person learning, but he said they were not told if the return would be for a full or half day.

Teachers would also bear the brunt of the plan, he added.

“Every day they will not only have to teach virtual, but physical, then tend to whatever life they have,” Diaz said. “That is an amazing stress and strain on a person. Our staff is amazing, but ultimately they are human. They can get sick.”

Trustee Tuyen Fiack said the plan for the secondary level would only work for high school students who have a driver’s license, or have parents who work from home.

“I don’t think that it’s conducive to working parents, essential workers that have to work a full day, especially if transportation is not guaranteed for their students,” she said. “This secondary schedule is super confusing.”

Aguirre said she didn’t know if there were any better options as the end of the school year is approaching on June 4.

“Let’s try it; we’re never going to know how it works if we don’t say yes,” she said. “It’s seven weeks. Yes, it’s a short time, but that time can be incredibly useful.”

Gilroy High School teacher Karen Hockemeyer wrote to the board, calling the proposed secondary schedule a “complete waste of time for everyone.”

“Students will have less learning time with this schedule than they do now,” she wrote. “This will increase their anxiety, not lessen it. This is not what they will need or want.”

Ella Donahue, a ninth-grader at Christopher High School, said it “doesn’t make sense to go back to school” with Covid-19 still prominent.

“I am a 15-year-old who desperately wants to have a normal high school experience, but it just is not safe,” she wrote. “Going back to school, even if it is for only an hour a day, still puts everyone, students, teachers and staff, at a great risk.”

Kathy Souza, a parent of a GUSD middle school student, called the plan “ridiculous.”

“After 10 months of planning…entire bodies of scientific data on how to safely reopen…and 55 minutes of in-person class for four days per week was the best the GUSD administration and reopening committee could come up with?” Souza said.

Kelli McDougall, a parent of three elementary students in GUSD, said she was “beyond disappointed” in the district, adding that town halls for parents and staff should have been held prior to the March 18 board meeting.

Virtual meetings are scheduled on March 23 and 24 to discuss the hybrid models.

“This year has been a struggle for us all, and my family would see any return to the classroom as progress in the right direction, even if it’s just for the tail end of the year,” McDougall said. “It would also help prepare us all for whatever next year will look like.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 86 in early March, which provides financial incentives for school districts to return to in-person instruction by April 15. GUSD Chief Business Officer Alvaro Meza said the district is eligible for roughly $7.4 million.

More than 500 district staff have received at least a first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to Superintendent Deborah Flores, and most are expected to be fully vaccinated by the time schools reopen.

Repairs and upgrades of the district’s 1,200 HVAC units are expected to be complete by early April.For information on the hybrid plan, visit gilroyunified.org/reopening-gusd/reopening-preschool-to-5th-grades.

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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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