Dear AUSD Community,
During my Superintendent’s Report at the School Board meeting on September 8, I shared information related to the pathway for returning to in-person instruction at Albany schools. This message is to provide more details and to relay this important information to all community members.
Currently, in California’s new “tiered” system of COVID-19 risk, Alameda County is classified at the highest level, which indicates widespread transmission. County case rates will need to drop to the next lower risk level, “substantial transmission” for three weeks, and then remain at this level for another two weeks, in order for Albany schools to reopen for in-person learning without a special waiver. Although Albany’s COVID-19 transmission rate is much lower than that of the County as a whole, we are held to the higher county level of restriction.
It is impossible to predict when the County will achieve this lower transmission rate. I honor and respect the Board of Education’s decision to adopt a Hybrid Learning model for this school year, which utilizes a combination of in-person and remote learning to educate our students. However, moving all students to Hybrid Learning remains on hold until pandemic conditions abate enough to institute this model safely.
You have probably heard stories in the news about some schools in the state that have reopened completely for in-person instruction or in a hybrid mode. California is a vast state, and pandemic conditions vary widely. What is allowed in another district may not reflect Albany’s situation. However, the Alameda County Office of Education recently asked school districts to submit a questionnaire regarding their interest in two possibilities to bring some students back onto campus. One option is to provide in-person opportunities for high-need students. Another is to apply for a waiver to reopen elementary schools, or some portion of TK-5 grades. AUSD returned this questionnaire with the following responses that I will now explain.
In-Person Services for Targeted Students
In the past week, state and county health departments have provided new guidance for providing limited forms of service to students, including:
- 1-1 assessments for students with disabilities and English Language Learners
- Small-group instruction for students who are especially vulnerable to learning loss
- PreK Classes
We are developing plans for all of the above types of activities. Plans must comply with social distancing and cleaning requirements, in addition to all regular (but extensive) safety and educational requirements. We cannot yet announce a date for beginning these activities.
The questionnaire also asked that districts indicate their interest in applying for a waiver to reopen elementary schools for on-campus learning (such as Hybrid Learning). We are committed to adhering to State and County health guidelines and want to open schools when it is determined safe to do so. Please note that the questionnaire is nonbinding and quite different from the waiver application.
I want to be very clear about the extensive obligations that have been placed on school districts for a successful waiver application. This overview is not complete, but is intended to convey significant points.
- County Health Department approval based on current disease conditions
- Health screening protocols for students and staff
- Plans for contact identification and tracing for confirmed COVID-19 cases
- Testing protocols for staff, and evidence of a partnership with a testing provider
- Posted plans for cleaning, disinfection, and ventilation
- Hygiene logistics including installation of hand washing stations
- Cohorting of small stable groups for all activities
- Plans for physical distancing, including entrance, egress, and movement
- Plans for face coverings and other essential protective gear
- Staff training and family education
- Communications plans
- Key constituent consultation
A number of these have been part of Albany’s planning from the earliest days of the pandemic. Almost all are being actively addressed at this time. For example, hand washing stations have been purchased and are being placed, improved HVAC filters are being installed at all schools, plans for physical distancing and movement have been created, and face coverings and other essential protective gear have been received. However, some of these requirements remain out of reach. Districts must demonstrate their capacity to perform employee testing at regular intervals. This means that each California school district must contract with a private COVID-19 testing company, and pay for ongoing testing. No district in Alameda County has been able to obtain a contract for “surveillance” testing. We are at least 4-6 weeks away from satisfying the full list of requirements in the waiver application. In order to move forward together, we must have agreements with our labor partners. It is also important to note that once the waiver is submitted, review and notification is expected to take several more weeks.
I recognize that there is a great need to reopen Albany schools, and that the impacts of school closures on students and families are a tremendous burden. We are fully committed to reopening in ways that are safe and measured, and to reporting our progress as we work towards this goal.
Frank Wells, Ed.D
Albany Unified School District