Updates in reverse chronological order are at the top of this post. Please scroll down to read the original post first if you have not already done so.
UPDATE on 6/10/2020 2:05 PM – Two articles on the school reopening controversy have appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal. These articles are copyrighted, so you need an account to access them. You can see one free story per month without an account or three per month with a free account. Otherwise if you don’t want to pay for a subscription, you’ll have to pick up a free hardcopy at a newsstand or store.
UPDATE on 6/15/2020 at 10:20 PM after ones on 6/9/2020 at 5:20 PM and again on 6/10/2020 at 2:35 PM –
(6/15) Mr. Binetti has revamped his website once again and has restored the deleted videos mentioned immediately below.
(6/10) I wrote the two paragraphs below yesterday evening. Mr.Binetti overnight removed his previous four videos and his list of research references and on 6/10/2020 only has a single video designed to get people to sign his letter. This change looks extremely bad in my opinion as he did this switcheroo AFTER receiving evidence countering his position. This is intellectually dishonest and appears as simply an attempt to promote his petition drive!!
In his first three videos, he tries to make a compelling case using research studies that COVID-19 will not spread in schools, but then has to backpedal in his fourth video when viewers presented him with two cases in which spread did happen. He concludes that we don’t yet know why it happened in those two cases, but the scores of other studies still say that school transmission is not likely. I am just passing this on in the interest of looking at all sides of the issue. He also is running a petition drive to reopen schools normally. If interested, I would encourage you to watch all four videos first before you make a decision to sign.
UPDATE on 6/9/2020 at 10:30 AM – There is an online petition for those opposed to the quarter system available at https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/smuhsd-vote-no-on-the-quarter-system-proposal.
UPDATE on 6/9/2020 at 5:00 AM – The following note, posted late last night by Anne Pesquie, is from the Nextdoor discussion on this topic available at https://nextdoor.com/post/150484676 for those who have Nextdoor access in the mid-SF Peninsula area. I am trying to post the most important excerpts from that very lengthy and deeply nested conversation here.
All teachers from the district received (finally) an email from the superintendent communicating about the possible new blended/quarter schedule.
One hour later, they also received an email from a group of teachers (from multiple high schools) stating that even after talking with Dr Skelly for two hours, regarding an alternating schedule for the fall semester that would avoid blended/quarter system, it seems that his decision is already made to fully support the blended/quarter system.
On the email, this group of teachers shared their plan, “a 80/20 remote/blended model with room for on-campus support”, which is not “perfected or complete” and “does not necessarily mean 100% of our faculty is behind it”. (link below)
Teachers, parents, students who disagree with the district’s plan at least can sign a petition “What is the Best Instructional Model Amidst the Pandemic?”
They concluded by “Other parent and teacher groups have been working hard on their own proposals for alternatives. This is not to go against any of that work, but hopefully to combine our conversations and work together to find a better solution.”
personal side note: This is not a leak, I asked permission to put it online.
I should note that the Superintendent is in the position of having to navigate through all of the conflicting interests on this issue. The final decision will be made by the Board. In the recent Credit/No Credit decision, the Board, by a narrow margin, sided with the teachers’ position.
Once again the teachers and a significant number of parents are at odds. The factor that will finally tip this issue will be health threats to the teaching staff in my opinion, but I will not be speaking at the meeting, just observing.
Parents should remember that “essential workers” are still supposed to be protected from health threats! Teachers did not sign up to deal with potentially life-threatening work on a daily basis. Even doctors and nurses work (or are supposed to work!) with protective equipment, and they can attempt to isolate ill patients and limit their movement. Teachers have no comparable control in a school setting when it comes to possible asymptomatic spreaders! Incoming temperature checks are their only defense and will they all be issued N95 masks??!
The Board may very well decide in favor of a 100% online learning model to begin the year, but try to stick with a reasonably normal school day and semester schedule. This will make the teachers happy, and the parents may go away at least relieved that they didn’t get the quarter system!! That would be a very clever use of a straw man argument, wouldn’t it?!??
UPDATE on 6/8/2020 at 4:00 PM – A PDF of the full Return to School Committee Presentation can be downloaded by clicking on this link and has been inserted into the Board Meeting Agenda in the Attachments section just before agenda item L.2. It is a massive slide deck (66 slides – 52 in the main part plus an Appendix of 14!!), and I am concerned that this could turn into the longest Board meeting in SMUHSD history…
UPDATE on 6/6/2020 at 9:00 PM – An open letter from members of the Return to School scheduling subcommittee opposing the Quarter system has been added to the Comments section below.
UPDATE on 6/6/2020 at 3:05 PM – The Board meeting agenda and attendance information has been published at https://www.smuhsd.org/Page/2235. The Agenda item appears to be L. 1. but the presentations will not be attached until Monday, so it is difficult to know what the Board will actually see at this time. There will also be significant business conducted before this agenda item.
UPDATE on 6/6/2020 at 7:45 AM – A letter from Craig Childress, the president of the SMUHSD Teachers Association to the Superintendent and the Board has been posted in the Comments section following the article. Teachers are advocating for 100% Distance Learning in the Fall. An additional slide deck on the issue is also included below.
UPDATE on 6/5/2020 at 8:00 AM – A PDF version of the slide deck (without the excessive animations in the original) has been received and added to this article below.
Original Post on 6/4/2020 – A report on Nextdoor yesterday evening indicated that an “internal Return to School subcommittee for scheduling” … “is planning on moving to a quarter system (9 weeks of 3 classes with finals) and dispensing with the semester system in ALL HIGH SCHOOLS in the district as a way to reduce teacher exposure to Covid in the classroom.”
The Nextdoor post can be found here, but Nextdoor access depends upon your neighborhood location, and people outside of the distribution area and those without Nextdoor accounts will not be able to view it.
I have checked with several parents who I know, and they have not received any notifications as of this AM.
Comments on Nextdoor state that the change to a quarter system
“is most likely to be presented as the “best option” at the Board of Trustees meeting next week on June 11 after being discussed minimally in subcommittee. Anyone interested should attend the meeting virtually (Zoom info will be available here): https://www.smuhsd.org/Page/2235 to find out more and write to Dr. Skelly and board members (emails here: https://www.smuhsd.org/Page/2231) in order to understand and share opinions.”
I should add that the Board is very likely stuck between a rock and a hard place on this issue as often happens. I do not know what kind of feedback that they are getting from teachers about their concerns regarding contracting COVID-19 when school resumes. I wrote about this critical safety issue near the end of my article Will “Online Learning” Work? Please keep this important issue in mind when expressing your opinions if you attend this meeting.
The community needs to work out a solution that balances all needs to the best of its ability. No one will walk away completely happy.
Students have also told me that an option of having every student attend school one week out of three has also been discussed (1/3 of students at school each week followed by two weeks of online learning). I am not sure why this rotation was chosen versus having one third come in every third day (too confusing for the kids?? Do they want each cohort to stay out for two weeks to see if they subsequently come down with COVID-19?? Other reasons??) Hallways will supposedly also have one-way markings to reduce problems between classes.
Given the equity issues that I also discussed in Will “Online Learning” Work?, it might make sense to have students without Internet access attend school full time or else these students will quickly fall irretrievably behind.
Alternatively, there have been some GoFundMe campaigns for homeless people and families on Nextdoor. In light of the current racial strife in our country, perhaps our community should seriously consider a fundraising drive for SMUHSD, SMFCSD, or whatever your local district is, and provide technology to ALL of our students. It would be preferable for a fund to be set up directly in each district for this purpose instead of giving cuts of valuable education dollars to “middle men.”
This might be the single best action that we could take to improve race relations in our community. After all, education “is the only valid passport from poverty.“
Here is a PDF of the slide deck for the Return to School subcommittee meeting scheduled for 9:00 AM on 6/5/2020:
After the meeting mentioned above I received the following slide deck with sample schedule information. This appears to supplement the material above:
The Statement on the fifth slide of this second deck from Amy Johnstone, the Burlingame HS PTO President, describes several reasons for students to return to school and ends with “And I do believe that educators are an essential business workforce.” It is both interesting and concerning:
The Spirit of Our Work“It feels like there is an assumption that DL is the safer choice. But when campus closed, many of our most vulnerable students and families went dark – we had no eyes on them and minimal communications. DL addresses curriculum and academics but our schools are so much more than that – they are places of nutrition, mental health, mentoring and mandated reporting. Sometimes our campuses are the safest place for our students. We can control the school environment, based on science and best practices, and adapt as needed. Not every home environment is providing that level of stability, safety and responsiveness. I do believe that for some of our students, every minute they spend on campus is safer and better for them. And I do believe that educators are an essential business workforce.”– Amy Johnstone, BHS Parent, PTO President
As I stated on Nextdoor the opposing sides need to proceed cautiously if we are to resolve this issue:
I noted, in a different school reopening discussion on Nextdoor, some statistics from the San Mateo-Foster City School District indicating that 1 out of six teachers were in the 50 years old and above category, a higher risk group for severe COVID-19. I do not know the numbers for the SMUHSD teachers, but would not be surprised if it is similar.
Parents have a legitimate concern to get the best education possible for their children (and this is unlikely to happen via 100% distance learning), but many parents also want to be able to go back to work themselves and not have to watch their kids.
Teachers nearing retirement may be very hesitant to expose themselves to possibly serious disease.
It is very hard to see how these differing interests can be reconciled without significant compromise. If teachers are pressed too hard, the District might lose some valuable experienced staff who decide it is safer to just retire despite taking a possibly lower retirement income. Everyone loses in this scenario.
On the other hand if teachers press for distance learning and don’t follow through, there will also be a lot of upset. Parents report elsewhere on Nextdoor that the actual online effort between teachers in various schools (and even between teachers at the same school) is unfortunately wildly variable. Explanations given, like some teachers having to also take care of their own kids, are not heard sympathetically by, e.g., nurses who are risking their lives daily but also have kids who need watching.
Reconciling these issues is going to require a serious, yet calm and rational discussion that unfortunately seems to be less common lately. I hope the community does itself proud in this regards. I would not be surprised if part of the reason for the limited distribution of the plans so far is precisely a fear of such contentious debate.
Please scroll down to the Comments section to see a letter from the SMUHSD Teachers Association President to the SMUHSD Superintendent and Board of Trustees. Other material will also be included below as it arrives.