Pleasanton Unified parents held a rally on Saturday Dec. 12, 2020 at Hopyard Road and Valley Avenue to put pressure on the district to reopen schools. Livermore parents held a similar rally on Tuesday afternoon.
LIVERMORE — Livermore parents held a rally Tuesday to put pressure on the school district to let their children return to school as soon as legally possible.
Parents and some children gathered in downtown Livermore Tuesday afternoon armed with posters and signs to hold district officials to their word that schools will reopen two weeks after the county moves into the red tier of the state’s color-coded COVID-19 tracking system.
Since Alameda County is currently in the most restrictive purple tier, Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District cannot allow children to return to school until two weeks after the county reaches the red tier.
The district submitted a reopening plan to the county office of education last month, which would have had children return as early as Jan. 19. Districts are required to submit plans for reopening to the county, although ultimately it is up to the district itself to decide when they actually reopen; the county only provides guidance.
Parents like Nobella Baba helped organize the rally. Baba wants her elementary-age children to return to school in the district proposed hybrid model. The model allows for kids to be divided into two groups for in-person learning four days a week — a morning group and an afternoon group. Parents who don’t want their children back in the classroom could maintain distance learning at home.
That model would mean a potential change in the child’s teacher, and even the child’s school, because the district would be matching teachers who agree to return to the classroom with students who want to go back to school.
“I want the conversation to continue. I want the district, and the (teachers) union, to know that parents will continue speaking up and advocating for our kids. Just because we’re in the purple tier doesn’t mean we’re sitting quiet,” Baba said.
She is concerned about the well-being of children and their mental health during the pandemic; returning to school and being able to interact with their peers is vital, she said.
“Science is telling us kids should be back in school, that kids are no threat and are not at risk,” she said.
Tensions were high when parents spoke out at a board meeting last month, some in tears as they pleaded with the board about the seriousness of not bringing kids back to school. Parents and children showed up carrying signs that said “Don’t destroy our future,” and “Save our childhood.” Parents were concerned that a committee recommended that the board not allow reopening of schools unless at least 67% of parents surveyed wanted their children taking part in the hybrid model. According to the district, only 38% of surveyed parents agreed to send their children back to the hybrid school.
Deputy Superintendent Chris Van Schaack said in an interview that the board has not decided whether to accept the committee’s supermajority recommendation. The district plans on sending another survey to parents after the winter break. The new survey would flush out details such as asking parents if they would rather stay with their child’s current teacher no matter what, even if that means not returning to in-person learning.
Alameda County would need to return to the red tier, which is based on how many new coronavirus cases per day the county has, and remain there for two weeks before the school district is allowed to reopen schools for its hybrid model.
Even after reopening is allowed, the board doesn’t necessarily need to approve opening schools: The board can decide if it wants to vote on whether to reopen, or give staff direction to go along with the already approved reopening plan without a formal vote, Van Schaack said.
The district already began allowing about 200 children back to schools, such as those with special needs, English-language learners and those with internet connectivity issues. Only small groups of five to eight students are meeting.
The district was hoping to allow children back on campus for “support hubs” such as clubs, tutoring, science labs and art projects, intended to help the social-emotional needs of students by allowing them to interact. But the district has paused that plan for now as the county has moved into the purple tier, Van Schaack said.
Pleasanton parents also held a similar rally over the weekend to also put pressure on the district to reopen when possible, holding signs that read “No more screens” and “schools are essential.” The group, Open Pleasanton Schools, wants the district to also submit. a plan to the county office of education for middle and high schools. Parent Jennifer Oxe, one of the organizers, said other districts throughout the state have successfully reopened and wants Pleasanton to “pull the trigger” already.
San Ramon Valley Education Association, the teachers union in San Ramon Valley Unified School District, planned to speak at its school board meeting Tuesday night against what it called the “premature and unsafe” reopening of its school district, and the district’s “reckless disregard for the health and safety of its students, employees, and their families.”
Both staff and students in one San Ramon Valley special education classroom were infected with the COVID-19 virus after returning to the school in November. All campuses are expected to reopen for in-person learning on Jan. 5.