With Covid-19 infections rising throughout the county, the Morgan Hill Unified School District announced Wednesday that the 2020-21 school year will begin with distance learning for all grade levels and students starting Aug. 13.
The Virtual Learning Program model is a departure from the district’s previous school reopening plan released July 3, which would have allowed students in all grade levels to be present in the classrooms for at least a portion of each week.
Instead, the district’s distance learning program will now apply to all MHUSD students from grades preK-12, according to a joint press release from MHUSD and three employee bargaining groups.
The employee groups—the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers, Morgan Hill Classified Employees Association and Morgan Hill Educational Leaders Association—are also in support of a virtual-only return to academics for the fall semester, which starts Aug. 13.
“The COVID-19 data within Santa Clara County indicates a rise in infection rates, and it has become clear that the pandemic is not yet under control,” the press release says. “Returning to in-person instruction at this point has a higher risk than the district is willing to take.”
MHUSD Superintendent Steve Betando said, “We have to respect the power of this virus, the escalating exposure data, and the concerns from our employees and families to find a safe way back into the classroom. It is heartbreaking for all of us to not be able to bring the students back to in-person education at the start of the school year. With the community’s help in stopping the spread of COVID-19, at any time we are ready to quickly adjust back to in-person school.”
Although MHUSD buildings have been closed since March 13, employees represented by MHFT, MHCEA and MHELA have continued to support students and their families, the press release says. The Student Nutrition Department ramped up a full-scale operation, providing a weekly drive-through meal pickup.
Schools scheduled drive-through Chromebook and paper packet pickup days immediately following the school closures, the press release says. MHUSD along with the Morgan Hill Community Foundation and the YMCA developed a safe childcare program for essential workers housed in Barrett Elementary School.
“Classified employees are looking forward to continuing our dedication in helping the community and the students to achieve the highest level of education possible and working together as equals to come up with creative solutions to this current situation,” Classified Employee President Danielle Nunes said. “As we push forward into the new normal we understand that flexibility and adaptability are key ingredients in providing these services.”
Now, facing a virtual-only return to school, the wheels are already in motion. All students in grades PreK through 12 will have access to a Chromebook, according to the district. MHUSD has acquired 400 hotspots to ensure that students without internet service will have access to the Virtual Learning Program; the district will continue to improve and provide access to academic and social-emotional support services; and eligible students will continue to be able to receive free meals.
In the coming days, MHUSD will publish the Virtual Learning Program, which will include sample student schedules with daily live instruction.
“Whereas we realize this is not the most ideal environment for learning, MHELA members are in support of the decision to provide virtual learning for the start of our school year,” MHELA President Patrick Buchser said. “As educators we all want to work with students and do the work we love and we must be able to pivot with information provided to support student and staff safety.”
Professional development will be provided to staff to meet the needs of students in a virtual environment, the press release says. Likewise, training for students and members of their household will be provided so students can maximize their virtual learning. MHUSD will also offer increased resources for parents to support their children while participating in virtual learning, including video tutorials.
MHFT President Jim Levis said, “Members want to be back on our campuses; to see our students, to teach our classes, and to return to normalcy. Unfortunately, COVID cases have continued to increase and there is no sign of them easing. The risks to our students, our staff and our community are too high to return to campus at this time. We appreciate working with the executive cabinet to reach this difficult decision. We do not make this recommendation lightly, as we know that our students learn best face-to-face. MHFT will work to provide a rigorous and robust learning experience for all of our students.”
The district’s reopening plan announced July 3 would have allowed students to return to the classroom with face covering, social distancing and hygiene requirements in place. Elementary school students would have physically attended class five days a week, while middle and high school students would have learned on a “hybrid” model that allows some distance learning and some in-classroom academics.