With Santa Clara County recently downgraded to a lower pandemic risk tier, the San Jose Unified School District has announced a plan to start getting its 28,000+ students back to in-person classes starting in January.
Under the plan, parents will have the option to send their children to school on campus or continue with distance learning, as ABC 7 reports. The move comes as school districts try to balance health and safety with growing concerns over the impacts of keeping schools shuttered.
Many private and charter schools have already reopened, according to the Mercury News, and districts are increasingly facing pressure to reopen schools. Months of distance learning have taken their toll on families and raised concerns about plummeting success for all students, as well as digital learning gaps that are heavily impacting the most vulnerable students.
The Mercury News notes that school districts around the Bay Area are seeing sharp upticks in failing grades so far this fall. And a viral photo last month of two elementary students using free wi-fi outside a Taco Bell in Salinas to log into virtual classes poignantly illustrated the hardships inherent in remote learning, especially for students with the fewest resources.
Data trickling in from around the country has shown concerning results, as well. Washington, D.C. has seen a widening achievement gap along race lines and an increase in the number of children failing to reach literacy benchmarks, says the Washington Post.
“The lack of urgency [to reopen schools] is close to criminal,” says one Redwood City parent, speaking to the Mercury News.
At the same time, school districts and parents are looking to balance concerns about the dangers of in-person learning to students and families, as well as staff.
"As much as I'm dying to see all those kids, it's just not the right time," says Willow Glen High School music teacher Kelly Walker, speaking to ABC 7. "I just don't see it being feasible to create a situation that's going to be safe for everyone."
The San Jose district has said it will only proceed with the reopening if the county remains in California’s "Orange" tier, its third tier for Covid risk assessment, or lower. It won’t make a final decision until the end of December, just days before the scheduled first day back on campus on Jan. 5.
"We must continue to monitor the health data in the county as we prepare for students to return to school in person,” said the district’s manager of health and family support programs, according to CBS SF.
Meanwhile, NPR reports that several recent studies seem to indicate that schools may represent a low risk for spreading the novel coronavirus.
Some teachers, like Walker, are still not convinced. “If parents are being allowed to make that decision for their children — whether or not they're going to send their kids back to school in-person or keep them home for distance learning … why are we as teachers not being given that option as well?" she says to ABC 7.