Funk: How East San Jose schools are keeping students, staff safe
Santa Teresa High School is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    As reported by Sonya Herrera in San José Spotlight Nov. 10, East San Jose ranks No. 1 in new cases per capita in the county. This is not new news to us who work for East Side Union High School District (ESUHSD).

    According to county data, 1,988 people tested positive for the virus in the 95122 ZIP code. With a population of 57,780 people, the number of cases in the area amounts to a rate of 3,441 cases for every 100,000 people.

    As superintendent of ESUHSD, I recommended to our Board of Trustees in late June that, in the best interest of our staff, students and families, we start the school year in distance learning because we had several ZIP codes with the highest percentage of COVID-19 cases in Santa Clara County.

    We created a four-phased approach to reopening our schools.

    We are currently in Phase 2, supporting single-stable cohorts of 16 for our students most struggling with distance learning based on our six-week and 12-week reporting periods. Since the first day of school, students have been on our campuses accessing our Wi-Fi if they lacked broadband at home or did not have a safe and quiet place to study.

    Now that Santa Clara County has shifted off the state watchlist and has entered into the moderate status as per the criteria outlined in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, our district is able to safely provide in-person, onsite intervention and support to students identified as requiring additional assistance.

    Due to the size of our comprehensive high schools, the only way to maintain social distancing and proper spacing as defined by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department Reopening Schools framework, in-person, onsite support and intervention will be provided through single stable cohorts which will meet inside (up to 16) and outside (up to 32). We believe this is the most feasible way to approach in-person, onsite intervention and support. Each cohort will include at least one adult.

    Each school will offer in-person, onsite intervention and support up to 10 single cohorts of students identified as needing additional assistance. Student and staff participation will be voluntary and the cohort can meet on a daily basis (site discretion).

    A student/teacher can only participate in a single cohort at a time. Students and teachers may rotate cohorts every three to five weeks with seven days between cohorts. There is a maximum of 310 students at any given time on campus.

    Below are a few examples of the type of cohorts for Phase 2 we are offering.

    Examples of a single cohort include groups identified in the Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan (LCP), as well as the following groups:

    Students who have fallen behind in school who are identified as Students with Special Needs, English Language Learners, Foster Youth or McKinney-Vento;

    Athletics, clubs and Goodwill Assets program cohorts;

    Students who will be offered in-person, onsite intervention and support will be identified by each site, and parents will be asked to opt in if they agree to having the student be part of a cohort;

    Students who have been identified will be notified by school personnel and provided details of the cohort sessions, including safety protocols and expectations.

    If parents agree to opt in their student for participation in the cohort, they will need to agree to conduct temperature checks and symptom screening for their student prior to arriving on campus for the cohort session.

    Teachers and students may only be part of one cohort at a time. For example, a teacher could identify 15 students based on grades and attendance to make a cohort. A single cohort can be split into two cohorts to meet gathering size for indoor support.

    If a cohort meets outdoors, the cohort can be 31 students and one adult.

    Cohorts can meet during tutorial, advisory periods, after school or on Saturday.

    Unless the student is accessing the school’s Wi-Fi on the school campus, all students participating in in-person intervention and support, must leave campus immediately upon completion of the cohort session.

    Our Reopening Task Force has recommended that we follow similar guidelines for Phase 3.  Phase 3 will begin when the county reaches the Minimal Level of active cases. Phase 3 will increase the number of cohorts to no more than 500 students on campus at single time (Reopening Plan).

    In an effort to protect our staff, students and families, Phases 2 and 3 are voluntary. Staff members with underlying health conditions, over the age of 62 or are living with or taking care of someone with underlying health conditions, may continue to work from home. Families must opt in to have their child receive in-person support.

    Any staff member who is working at the district office or at the school site is being tested weekly at the expense of the district.

    We are taking a very thoughtful and measured approach to addressing the needs for all of stakeholders during this pandemic. We cannot allow this pandemic to destroy the advances we have made to East Side Union High School District.

    It is more important than ever that we meet the demands of distance learning and provide the scaffolding and safety nets so that all of our students meet the rigorous demands of earning a high school diploma. We will not let our community down.

    San José Spotlight columnist Chris Funk is the superintendent of the East Side Union High School District. His columns appear every third Monday of the month. Contact Chris at [email protected] or follow @chrisfunksupt on Twitter.


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