This past Monday, as the omicron variant of COVID-19 continued to surge, students across the Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) returned to school from winter break.
In the several days since then, the district has seen a high amount of absences across its teaching staff and classified employees.
This past Tuesday, according to MUSD data, 80 teachers were absent, and only 42 substitutes could be found to fill positions in those classrooms. Data from other days from this week is fairly consistent with Tuesday’s. Some parents have reported that their children have been sent home from their classes due to the lack of substitutes.
On Thursday, a total of 1,362 students were absent. In the entire school district, there are about 10,200 students.
At a special MUSD board meeting last night, district leadership spoke about how the district does not have enough testing kits to keep up with the needs of all students. They also spoke of the toll that being in school is taking on staff who are struggling to keep up with testing demands and staff shortages…
“It is to the point where it is taxing the extreme limits of the mental and physical well being of every school site administrator and every district administrator, every custodian, every school office secretary, our teachers,” Nichol Klein, Principal of Pomeroy Elementary School, said at the meeting. “We are hitting our absolute limit. And it is going to do nothing but increase if we do not pause and take a moment to see the impact on this community.”
After hearing from various MUSD representatives, MUSD’s Board of Education decided to make a shift to virtual learning starting next Monday, January 10. In-person learning will resume on January 18, after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Since January 15 is a professional development day and January 18 is a holiday, children will only be engaging in virtual learning for four school days.
During the meeting, a number of parents spoke out during Public Comment. Some of them were appreciative of the idea to move kids to virtual learning next week, while others were disappointed.
One parent, Robert DeLuca, expressed his concern over going virtual, saying that he wasn’t sure his children would get the education they need and deserve. His worry was that one week of virtual learning would turn into another week, and then another.
“Last year, they didn’t get the education they needed,” said DeLuca. “They’re behind. I got 10th-graders and an 8th-grader; they’re behind.”
Other parents who spoke at Public Comment said they had to work and were unable to have their children at home learning virtually.
MUSD Superintendent Cheryl Jordan assured parents that if they had to work, they would still have the option of sending their children to school, where the kids would join their classes virtually on a chromebook.
At present, MUSD has been doing what they can to make up for the lack of staff.
This week, Assistant Superintendent of Human Relations Jonathon Brunson has been going to Curtner Elementary School to support the office and help with testing demands. Curtner has been without a Principal since the beginning of the school year.
And although MUSD has four full-time bus drivers, three of them have been impacted by COVID, along with two substitute bus drivers. To make up for it, various groundsmen from the district have been filling in to drive the school buses.
On July 9th of this year, Assembly Bill (AB) 130 was approved by the California Legislature. AB 130 states that for the 2021-2022 school year, families who feel that their children’s health could be put at risk from in-person learning can have an independent study option.
This morning, MUSD sent communication to all parents, asking them to sign an Independent Study Contract to allow their children to begin synchronous virtual learning next Monday.
The Beat reached out to Dr. Mary Ann Dewan, who is County Superintendent of Schools for the Santa Clara County Office of Education, for a comment on MUSD’s plans.
Dr. Dewan responded over email: “The ability for a school district to offer remote or virtual learning ended on June 30, 2021. Education Code section 51745 (as amended by Assembly Bill 130 of 2021) requires districts to offer specified independent study programs, including ‘[i]ndividualized study for a pupil whose health would be put at risk by in-person instruction, as determined by the parent or guardian of the pupil.’ The decision to participate in independent study pursuant to this provision depends solely on the family’s determination—not a District’s assessment of COVID-19 risks or impacts.”
During the special meeting, Superintendent Jordan also brought up that Dr. Dewan had mentioned that she’s not sure if MUSD’s plans for next week’s virtual learning falls under AB 130, and is concerned that the district could lose their access to funding next week.
However, The Beat followed up today to see if there would be a loss in funding, and a district representative sent an email stating: “We are not anticipating that this necessary safety measure will impact funding since students will be receiving instruction on the four days of school next week.”
Meanwhile, with students out from Saturday, January 8 to Monday, January 17, they will have 10 full days to quarantine before returning to school on the 18th.
“And with a 10-day quarantine, people can come back if they have no symptoms and no fever without having to have a test,” said Superintendent Jordan.
MUSD leadership also stressed the importance of families staying home during the 10 days.
“I personally am begging you – stay home,” said Diana Orlando, President of the Milpitas Teachers Association. “Let us put a stop to this. Let our kids get back to school.”