Menlo Park City School District to start August 20 with distance learning

by Parke Treadway on August 2, 2020

At its meeting on July 30, the Menlo Park City School Board decided with a 4-1 vote to open the school year on August 20, 2020, in the Distance Learning mode for all students, with the intent to reassess the health data over the coming weeks and potentially open schools in a hybrid alternating week in-person/at-home model as early as September 8.

Separately the Board voted, also 4-1, to provide in-person preschool services for students aged 2.75-5 years at the district’s Early Learning Center this fall. State and county guidelines do not preclude the in-person provision of child care and preschool regardless of the county’s placement on the COVID watchlist.

Prior to making their decision, the Board heard Superintendent Erik Burmeister’s presentation which included details about HVAC, Transportation, COVID testing, as well as the COVID-19 Response Team’s recommendation to the Board that the district open in Distance Learning. Reasons for this recommendation include the County of San Mateo’s likely and imminent placement on the state’s COVID watchlist [which did occur on Aug. 1], that would preclude in-person opening until the county is off the watchlist for 14 days; the lack of readily and affordably available testing that is recommended by the California Department of Public Health to accompany any in-person reopening plan; and the desire to provide a stable decision around which teachers, staff, and parents can plan for August 20.

As the Board deliberated its decision, it kept the health and safety of MPCSD’s students, families, staff, and teachers at the forefront. The concerning health data showing rising cases in San Mateo County was an overarching reason the Board made the decision to open in Distance Learning. Providing clarity and a stable planning runway for teachers and families was also a priority.

Public comment included many parents advocating for the opening of in-person learning as soon as possible, citing the difficulty of distance learning for many students and the social, academic, and emotional slides their children have experienced since the state shelter in place began in March 2020. As Board Member Sherwin Chen expressed, this was a difficult decision that involved many emotions including the frustration that our state’s and county’s inability to successfully control the virus is having impacts on families beyond our control.

The district has a comprehensive plan ready to implement as soon as health data stabilizes. It involves stable cohorts of students attending alternating weeks in person and through virtual learning at home. The district is also supporting a fully at-home learning model called Virtual Academy for families who prefer the predictability of a distance learning model regardless whether campuses are open to in-person learning. District families will make their final choice about which learning model they prefer the week of August 3.

MPCSD has also partnered with local child care providers Newton Center, Inc. and GrowFit to offer childcare exclusively to district families on the “at home” learning weeks and daily during distance learning. Families will receive information to sign up for child care the week of August 3.

The Board will meet again on August 6 for continued updates especially around the district’s ongoing efforts to design a robust testing plan for staff and potentially also for students when schools are open in hybrid in-person mode, and discussion of the proposed waiver process that could allow MPCSD to bring back most vulnerable learners in person even if the county is on the watchlist. School districts throughout the state are awaiting clarification of the waiver process and MPCSD will make decisions about applying for a waiver in the coming weeks.

As always, MPCSD School Board meeting information, including the agenda and details for joining meetings via Zoom, are available 72 hours in advance of each meeting on the district’s website homepage.

Photo by Linda Hubbard (c) 2020

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