Most Antioch students will continue distance learning until end of school year, 50 learning centers for in person learning to open in April

The Antioch School Board members and district staff met on Wednesday, March 24, 2021. Trustee Mary Rocha was not online, but participated by phone, again. Video screenshot.

Program qualifies for district to receive state funds for school reopening of over $4.5 million

By Allen Payton

During their meeting on Wed., March 24, 2021 the Antioch School Board approved staff proposals that most district students would continue in distance learning for the remainder of the school year. Specifically, the board approved remaining in distance learning for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year, opening 50+ learning centers across the District for students who would benefit from a classroom environment, providing an in-person learning option for students with disabilities in grades K-5 who attend Special Day Classrooms, and providing an in-person learning option for students with disabilities in the Community Based Instruction program.

The district staff report reads:

“Throughout the pandemic, our core values have remained the same:

To open schools for in-person learning in a manner that is safe, is the least disruptive to families, and provides the most instructional time as possible.

At this time, the majority of parents surveyed would like to continue in distance learning through the end of the school year. However, we also recognize that some families would like their children to be in a school environment. To meet as many of our families’ needs as possible while staying true to the core values stated above, staff is recommending the following:

Remain in distance learning for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.

Open 50+ learning centers across the District for students who would benefit from a classroom environment.

Provide an in-person learning option for students with disabilities in grades K-5 who attend Special Day Classrooms.

Provide an in-person learning option for students with disabilities in the Community Based Instruction program.”

Superintendent Stephanie Anello said “as you may be aware, we did a survey of parents, last week…it remained steady at 10,000 votes, 60% of parents wanted to remain at distance learning, because of the enormous disruption of dropping off students at 8 am then picking them up at 11 a.m.”

Associate Superintendent of Educational Services, Christine Ibarra spoke of “many hours and sleepless nights” developing the proposed plan.

“The health guidelines are constantly changing,” she continued.

“Many of our schools will have large screen TV’s that will take a picture of groups of students to determine if any has a temperature,” Anello interjected.

“We are grounding our decisions and our recommendation in what our values are,” Ibarra stated. “That’s with the least disruption” to families. “The majority of our parents prefer distance learning at this time.”

Learning Centers

Ibarra shared that each school would have multiple learning centers and the district will reach out to those parents who prefer in-person learning for their students. They will open April 19 for K-6 and on April 26 for grades 7-12.

“Students will be wearing masks at all times,” she continued. “We will be taking temperatures. Appropriate social distancing of desks will be followed.”

Asked how many hours the learning centers will be open, Anello responded, “We still have to negotiate that with the teachers.”

About 50 public comments were then read, which lasted for over two hours, with most from district staff members in favor of Anello’s recommendations.

Board members then gave their input.

Trustee Gary Hack said, “I do have some thoughts to share. One is I trust the current leadership at this district. I trust the employees of the district…who make their best efforts to educate and keep safe those 17,000 students. I trust the surveys and the feedback. Most of the surveys showed 60% to 70%…support distance learning. I don’t believe COVID-19 is history, yet.”

Trustee Antonio Hernandez asked, “does this plan qualify for some of the money set aside for school districts to open?”

“I have run this plan by school services of California and we have been assured it does…because we are bringing students back,” said Assistant Superintendent Jessica Romeo. “The money begins when school returns on April 1st. There are nine days of instruction that we will not receive. So, we will receive about 91% of the $5 million.”

“Do we know what summer and fall will look like?” he asked.

“We’ve been taking this pandemic one day at a time,” Anello responded. “We expect to have programs during the summer. Whether or not they’ll be in person we’ll have to decide.”

Hernandez asked about the survey responses. Anello said they were in line with attendance, but slightly over the average for the parents of Hispanic and white students and below average for Black students.

“We’re not going to be able to make everyone happy,” he said. “Everyone’s going to be upset no matter what the decision.”

“To say I’ve been thinking about this, a lot would be an understatement,” Board President Ellie Householder said. “No matter what we do there are going to be some people who will be unhappy. This has been very difficult. This is probably the most consequential vote that I will make in my life here at the school district. I’ve really made myself sick…worrying about this. I’m the first person to be critical of some of our programming overall. I say that to say I think this is the best plan we could have come up with. The hybrid model just wouldn’t work for folks. We live in a commuter city. It is a difficult plan. It is truly tailored to our community. I thought it was cool how you came up with this model with learning centers.”

“It all came back to keeping people safe…and asking for out of the box thinking,” Anello responded. “It was a group effort. Credit has to go to Ms. Romeo for proposing the idea.”

“We tried to come up with a plan that would meet the needs of the 60%,” Romeo then said.

“The playbook is out the window,” Householder said, referring to the plan as “in between distance learning and a hybrid model.”

“This is an elegant solution to a messy problem,” she concluded.

Trustee Dr. Clyde Lewis spoke next thanking the staff. “Making these decisions that have the impact on our students, on our community…is not easy. I want to appreciate as a parent the concerns that are still there.”

“The decisions we’re going to make, tonight they’re not easy,” he continued.

“From the plan that we have…the parents who want to stay in distance learning have that option?” Lewis asked.

“The PODS are specifically for

“The learning centers are not. Those are separate. Those are additional,” Anello responded. “They will be in a supervised setting, but they will be logging in with their teachers.”

He then asked about time and hours.

“It will depend on the amount of students at each school,” Romeo responded. “The more learning centers we can open, we will expand as there is a need to expand.”

“For those students who come to class without materials, will the school district be given materials?” Lewis asked.

“Yes,” Ibarra responded.

“I want to highlight. I know there’s going to be some blowback no matter which side we decide to sit on,” he shared. “This is an opportunity if you are unhappy to engage in dialogue to find out how these decisions were made.”

Trustee Mary Rocha asked, “will the learning centers be a lot of age difference?”

“We wouldn’t put high school kids with younger students,” Anello responded.

The number of learning centers at each school will differ based on the interest.

“It depends on the amount of students, is that it?” Rocha asked. “Yes,” Anello said. “It could be that you fill it up with all first graders because that is the interest.”

“At least we’re giving the parents the opportunity which way they want to go,” Rocha stated. “At least we’re given that child the opportunity to get some help with a para-professional.”

“What is happening with the band, the music and choral?” Rocha asked.

“As of Monday, band performances are allowed at sporting events,” Anello responded.

“If you’re going to get mad at somebody don’t get mad at the teachers,” Householder said. “But it’s the board’s decision, tonight. I’ve really felt like part of a team, even though I’m board president, I really feel part of a team.”

“I encourage you, if you have a disagreement engage in dialogue,” Lewis reiterated. “It’s about what’s best for the kiddos.”

Rocha then made a motion to approve the recommendation by the superintendent for the Fourth Quarter learning. Hack seconded the motion and it passed 5-0.

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