The board of trustees of the Ravenswood City School District, which serves East Palo Alto and Belle Haven, voted Thursday to reopen the district's schools in phases starting Apr. 12.
Districtwide reopening will allow each student in the district the option of returning to their school campus for in-person learning. Schools will have the option of providing a hybrid of distance and in-person learning depending on teacher volunteers.
The school district is already in a pilot phase of reopening, with some grades at some schools open for in-person learning.
Ravenswood Superintendent Gina Sudaria said that it was the right time to reopen districtwide as COVID-19 case rates decline. All Ravenswood staff have been vaccinated or invited to get vaccinated and 63 percent of staff reported receiving at least their first shot.
The San Mateo County Office of Education has already approved the district's COVID-19 safety plan, with the Costano School of the Arts approved to bring seven classes back in person on April 12.
Of 678 families surveyed in March, more than 60 percent indicated they would send their children back to school, with Spanish-speaking families expressing more interest in returning.
In addition to Costano, the Belle Haven Elementary will bring back five classes on Monday, April 12. At Los Robles-Ronald McNair Academy, grades one through three and grade five will return Tuesday, Apr. 13. At Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School, a small cohort of sixth-grade students with special needs will return Tuesday, April 20, according to the plan that the board approved Thursday night.
Phased reopening will continue through May 5 and Sudaria said the plan is to phase in middle schools near the end of the reopening period.
The model of reopening depends on how many students and teachers choose in-person learning. The board discussed four reopening scenarios during a study session Tuesday night and chose two options.
The first scenario involves a hybrid of in-person and distance learning, where teachers teach students in-person for half the day and teach students doing distance learning the second half of the day. Another option is to do distance learning and in-person teaching at the same time.
The second scenario includes the option for full-day in-person or distance learning with the option for students to change homerooms depending on what method of teaching their class offers.
Safety protocols include stable group sizes, mask-wearing and physical distancing. Students and staff will also do daily health screenings and will have the option for free COVID testing once or twice a week.
The move to reopen will help support students who are struggling with distance learning.
One third of K through eight Ravenswood students were chronically absent from class in March, meaning they were absent for more than 10 percent of expected days.
The five-member board of trustees voted unanimously in favor of reopening, despite some who had safety concerns such as whether students and staff will be able to maintain a safe distance.
Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its school guidance to allow three feet of physical distancing between students in some classrooms. However, local guidance still requires six feet of distancing. Sudaria assured the board that Ravenswood schools would take maximum precautions and maintain as much distancing as possible between staff and students.
While Sudaria and the board agreed that it was the right decision to reopen, two teachers who spoke at Thursday's meeting were concerned about disrupting distance learning and adjusting to a new environment with just two months left in the school year.
Nicole Sullivan, a teacher at Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School, said that she was excited to return in person for the new school year in August, but she was less keen about reopening sooner, especially at the middle school level.
"Some students are thriving in distance learning. I'm not saying it's working for everybody but there are a lot of pros to distance learning," Sullivan said. "I just don't see the point in coming back now for the school year when we're going to lose so much academic time."
Sudaria said that while they want to minimize disruption, they needed to "disrupt what's happening now because though there are some grades that are better performing, we also have high chronic absenteeism."
Board Trustee Jenny Varghese Bloom said that reopening would give students who aren't showing up to class the opportunity to show up and that it was worth reopening to give students the benefit of being in the classroom.
"I don't want those kids to be further left behind. I want them to have the opportunity to engage," Bloom said. "Two months for those kids is so important. That is not trivial. And to be in the classroom for those two months, if that is going to benefit even if it's just two kids, it's worth it in my opinion."