Getting back to school
While South Coast educators know their students benefit from in-person learning, they are planning to teach remotely to begin the new school year. Photo courtesy Ellie Schoelen

La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District board members unanimously approved a reopening plan for the district that employs options for both in-person and remote learning depending on health circumstances.

“We are going to likely be pivoting to distanced learning,” Superintendent Amy Wooliever said during the July 29 virtual meeting. After San Mateo County was added to the state’s COVID-19 watchlist, Wooliever noted that it is very unlikely the county will be removed before school starts, meaning the school district will not be allowed to offer in-person learning without a waiver from the local health department.

“That process is really unclear; it is not yet developed,” Wooliever said in relation to obtaining a waiver. “To waive that guidance, I think would take a lot of discussion.”

“We were hoping to bring back our most vulnerable students,” she added. She mentioned the possibility of having students lacking reliable access to Wi-Fi meet in small groups. “We don’t know if we can do that yet,” Wooliever said. “That’s something we’re looking into really closely right now, to see what we are allowed to do.”

The district has been soliciting input from parents through surveys asking about successes and challenges of the past semester’s pivot to remote learning, comfort levels of returning to in-person learning, and transportation and child care needs. The most recent survey sent out asked parents which specific learning plan they would choose, given the option, between remote and in-person learning.

When one community member asked why the school district could not just commit to distanced learning to ease family planning concerns, Wooliever discussed the importance of planning for both remote and in-person learning to balance the needs of all families. She mentioned that some parents would really like to bring their students back to school, while some others acknowledge that given the current health situation they would not want their children back at school. She called the opposed positions “two very strong needs.”

The current plan has students engaging in one-on-one meetings, either over Zoom or in-person, during the mornings and providing time for office hours, learning tasks and small group activities in the afternoons, Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, students would engage in distanced learning while teachers would focus on parent communication and feedback, student support and further planning.

The board also voted to approve a transportation plan. It would prepare to lease vans for “bubble cohorts” of kindergarten through fifth-graders when learning returned to in-person. The vans would initially be leased, but then purchased when available and would remain a valuable asset for the district even post-pandemic as they would be useful for sports and other off-campus activities. Sixth- through 12-graders would be transported in a district bus with social distancing.

Although not voted on, Wooliever also mentioned a remote learning support plan, working with the San Mateo County Digital Inclusion team to ensure LHPUSD students were online. The plan would implement learning supports in the community to help with internet connectivity, device use and “just a human touch as well.” It would also support a lunch delivery program.

Wooliever said that South Coast ranch owners would be contacted for authorization to set up learning support for resident children with shade coverings, a table and chair for students to work at, and a storage tote for materials. The Digital Inclusion team would help vet sites for the best internet support.

Wooliever also outlined the class structure of each semester, with middle and high school students likely taking two classes in the fall semester, three in the winter, and three or maybe four in the spring. Some of those classes would continue across multiple trimesters with others lasting for just one trimester. Wooliever commented that this structure would allow the district to go back to in-person learning without teachers seeing 50 students at once.

Social studies teacher Randall Vail expressed his concern about this plan. “I’m not sure how pedagogically sound that is. They need a lot more going on than two classes a day.” He offered up a solution, saying he would try to have all of his material available online asynchronously so students would be able to access it even when not taking his classes.

Finally, the board voted to approve the one school, one book plan. Supported by San Mateo County Libraries, a book will be purchased for each student, depending on their grade level, and they will read the book over the course of the trimester or school year. Wooliever mentioned that it would not be a mandatory assignment, but more of a discussion-based option for students to engage in conversations about a book with real-world connections. High schoolers would be reading “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, which focuses on a Black teen’s reconciliation with police brutality in her community.

Board member Dave Meyrovich offered his advice to the district at the end of the meeting. “It’s going to be uncertain. That is just something we are going to have to accept. Once this thing starts, we all need to be prepared for things to change.”

“The virus is in control,” board member Cindy Hayes added. “We don’t have any control. We’re just along for the ride. We just have to communicate, be transparent.”

Wooliever concluded with her gratitude to parents and teachers and other community members for their comfort with being transparent with her about their concerns. “I really appreciate the community I’ve chosen to serve for all these years,” she said.

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