East Side school district easing back with on-campus learning next week
Oak Grove High School is one of the East Side campuses that will have some students return next week. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

East Side Union High School District (ESUHSD) students are returning to in-person learning next week.

Onsite learning will occur during tutorials, advisory periods, after school and on Saturdays as East Side students continue in their block schedules with distance learning.

ESUHSD will continue distance learning for the remainder of the school year or until there is a widely accessible vaccine, said superintendent Chris Funk.

“We went to distance learning … because the safety of our staff, students and families was number one, particularly because we had four ZIP codes in Santa Clara County with the highest cases of COVID-19,” he said.

At each of the district’s 16 campuses, a maximum of 310 students may be on campus at a time, divided into learning pods. Each campus is planning to have up to 10 pods per day. Classes of up to 16 (15 students and one teacher) may meet inside and of up to 32 (31 students and one teacher) outside. The district has 22,000 enrolled students.

“Some kids are excelling in distance learning,” Funk said. “They have more confidence and ask questions, but we know distance learning is not for everyone. We’re trying to identify those kids struggling the most and give them the opportunity to have in-person support.”

Because the Santa Clara Public Health Department is now allowing schools in-person learning, ESUHSD will focus on students struggling the most with distance learning. It has targeted foster youth, students with special needs and English-learners for in-person instruction, in particular those struggling with grades, attendance and behavior.

Students are invited to participate through emails, phone calls and parent-community specialists home visits. Classes will be offered across the board. Although students and teachers can only participate in a class at a time, they may rotate pods every three to five weeks with seven days between groups.

Parent Stephanie Ladisky rejected the offer to send her special-needs child to an East Side learning pod. Although she appreciates the district providing options, she said 31 students outdoors is too many for one teacher. She also is concerned what will happen come winter and bad weather.

“As a parent, beyond class size, I’m concerned with what measures are being taken to ensure the safety of these students,” Ladisky said. “Another concern would be the health concerns of the people in my family.”

Funk said finding a safe and quiet place to do work and study is a challenge for some students.

“We have some families with multiple generations living together,” he said. “Not everyone has their own bedroom or strong connectivity. Video lectures …take a lot of bandwidth. If you have multiple members of your family trying to go to school online, that’s a huge challenge.”

He said students’ emotional well-being and mental health is also challenged during distance learning.

“We’re trying to give opportunities for students to see their friends and provide mental health support on our campuses,” Funk said. “That’s another challenge we’re trying to overcome by allowing groups to come onto campus.”

If staffing allows and a school site hasn’t met its maximum number of students, it may permit other students to participate in onsite learning. Students may also join pods for athletic conditioning for school sports teams, clubs and student leadership.

“We believe this is the most feasible way to approach in-person, onsite intervention and support,” the school district said in a statement.

COVID-19 safety measures

The school district is following a phased approach to returning students to campus. Funk said limiting the number of students allows for health monitoring and contract tracing if necessary.

Parents must agree to perform temperature checks and symptom screenings before students arrive on campus.

Ladisky objects to the district expecting parents to take their children’s temperature before coming to campus.

“They may or may not do it and your child is at risk and I don’t think that’s responsible,” she said. “The teacher or admin should take the temperature of the kids when they walk into the classroom. They should not be relying on the word of the parents. They may be busy, working or forget. It’s just too big of a risk.”

Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 may not return to campus without a negative test or having completed 14 days of quarantine. Staff and students are required to wear face masks or shields. Classroom furniture has been moved 6 feet apart to ensure social distancing and markers have been placed on the ground.

Other health measures include daily sanitizing, classroom misting with disinfectant and replacing filters on HVAC units. COVID-19 signs will be posted and student traffic flow will be controlled. The district said it has purchased face masks, face shields, gloves, touchless thermometers, plexiglass barriers for classrooms and disinfecting supplies.

Next, the district will bring back students identified as moderate/severe for in-person learning. Starting Jan. 15, up to 500 students could be on any campus at a time for up to five days a week. Funk said some students may be on campus to access WiFI they don’t have at home.

This phase depends on the number of COVID-19 cases in Santa Clara County, which would have to be one in 100,000 or 20 new cases a day.

As of Oct. 22, Santa Clara County reported 23,679 confirmed coronavirus cases and 388 deaths.

“We will get through this together,” Funk said.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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