Mad River Union
ARCATA/McKINLEYVILLE – Students in the Northern Humboldt Union High School District may have the option of returning to their campuses for face-to-face instruction on Monday, April 5, following spring break.
Under the hybrid plan, students would alternate between distance learning and face-to-face instruction, working one week from their homes, and the next on campuses. The idea is to have a smaller group of students on campus at any given time to allow for social distancing and reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
The controversial plan was unanimously approved March 9 by the NHUHSD Board of Trustees, which oversees Arcata, McKinleyville, Pacific Coast, Six Rivers Charter and Mad River high schools.
In February, the district surveyed parents to determine how many were interested in sending their children back to campus for face-to-face learning. Of those who responded, 67.5 percent were in favor of returning to the classroom. Students who don’t feel safe will still have the option of distance learning.
In preparation for a return to the classroom, teachers have been given the opportunity to get vaccinated for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, which, as of March 12, had killed 531,000 people in the United States.
The district has improved the schools’ ventilation systems, installed air filters and has purchased personal protection equipment.
Despite those precautions, NHUHSD Superintendent Roger Macdonald told the board that it was still important to limit the number of students on each campus.
“If everyone came back, we wouldn’t be able to follow the recommended mitigations,” Macdonald said.
“I think it’s really important that all of us acknowledge that what we’re doing to bring students back face to face is a challenge, and I think we’re up for it,” Macdonald said. “We know it’s important for our families.”
Macdonald said that the district would send a letter to parents on March 10 asking them whether they wanted their kids to return to in-person learning or not.
Once the district knows how many students plan to return, they will be divided into two groups on each campus. One group will return to school on April 5, with classes held from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On Wednesdays, students will have distance learning.
The following week, the first group that went to school will have distance learning, while the second group attends school on campus.
The alternating schedule would continue through June 4. The district has not determined the schedule for finals week, which is June 7 to June 10.
When students arrive on campus, they will be directed to a pop-up tent where they will undergo a health screening. They will receive a mask if they don’t have one. Mask will be worn the entire time.
Macdonald said that students can wear their own masks if they like. If their masks aren’t up to school safety standards, then they can wear it over a surgical mask.
At 1 p.m. each day will be lunchtime. Students will be given a lunch-to-go as well as a breakfast for the following day.
Macdonald said that in order for the schools to open, the county must be in the red tier at least one day in the three weeks prior to April 5.
“It doesn’t seem prudent to stick our flag in the sand today and say ‘this is what we’re doing on April 5,’ when things can change so much between now and then,” Macdonald told the board.
Opinions on returning to face-to-face learning were mixed.
Some meeting attendees expressed concern about the reduction in instructional time. With students having to move between classes, each period is now 10 minutes shorter.
There was also concern about students mingling and possibly spreading the virus.
“They’re still going to leave together, for lunch, at the end of the day, and mix, and get into their cars together and go vape together and make all this contact that we can’t control,” said Shannon Kresge, a science teacher at Arcata High.
“What you’re about to roll the dice and make a decision on is greatly increasing the risk to our students and our community members,” Kresge said. “We could, by your decision, have students and community members die, and that doesn’t sit well with me.”
Alyssa Kell, a physic and geology teacher at Arcata High, said that the plan for face-to-face learning does not include a key component – small, stable groups. Kell said that as many as 300 students could be interacting.
“This is just not safe,” Kell said. “I just know our district can do better than this plan.”
Others were enthusiastic about returning to in-person learning.
“The majority of students want to go back to campus,” said a student. “We students have voices and we want to go back to school in person.”
One woman during the Zoom meeting was critical of NHUHSD for not having students return to class sooner.
“We are one of the last schools, if not the last high school, to go back to face-to-face instruction, and this is absolutely unacceptable,” she said.
The NHUHSD board will hold a special meeting on March 22 to review the opening plans.