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Wednesday, September 28, 2022
OpinionMilpitas schools were the first in California to favor at-home learning during...

Milpitas schools were the first in California to favor at-home learning during omicron

Credit where it’s due: Milpitas schools were the first in California to favor at-home learning during omicron.

I understand: this is an emergency. We needn’t get bogged in needless bickering. Just the same, fair is fair, and true is true. And despite Milpitas school bus drivers having called in sick over the past couple weeks, Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) still got thrown under the bus. 

Here’s what happened: On Thursday, January 6, in an emergency board meeting, the MUSD school board voted to provide district parents with the option to sign their kids up for at-home learning for a forthcoming block of 10 days (4 of which would be actual school days). Like other schools around the state and country, our district has been struggling with a lack of COVID-19 test kits, absent teachers, a lack of substitute teachers, and the expectation that they should keep on going like everything’s normal.

The next day, January 7, the district messaged parents about its decision, yet made the error of referring to what would happen as a “quarantine.” In other words, the district made it sound as though quarantining was the default when that wasn’t exactly true. What was true was that all parents would have the option of keeping their kids at home to learn, which most of them ultimately took the district up on. 

It was the q-word that caused a spot of trouble. Soon the Santa Clara County Office of Education came calling. Reason being, only the County and the State can call for an honest-to-God quarantine. On one level, this was meaningless: a simple error of language. On another level, there were grave legal implications, and the appearance that MUSD had lost its mind, gone rogue, and overridden higher powers. 

Accordingly, wishing only to keep students and staff members safe and healthy, MUSD revised its messaging: this wasn’t a mass quarantine, this was an option (a legal one) to learn from home. Critically, campuses would still remain open (as had always been the plan) for the option of in-person learning. 

But local media sources confused the issue. ABC 7 News put out a headline that read “Milpitas Unified to keep in-person learning despite push for ’10-day district-wide quarantine’.” NBC Bay Area announced, “Milpitas USD Reverses Decision to Go Remote After County Urges Districts to Keep Schools Open.” MSN’s headline was “Milpitas Schools Remain Open for In-Person Learning Amid Omicron Surge.”

Parents freaked out. Phone calls were made. Milpitas clarified that all was cool and the gang: kids could stay home if they wanted to, or come in if they wanted to, and the rest was just your standard-grade pandemic-era outpouring of mass hysteria. 

Last week, a message came in from the state: According to an article in Politico, the California Department of Education (CDE) said that California schools dealing with COVID outbreaks, student absences, and teacher shortages are well within their right to embrace remote learning programs on a temporary basis. Said Mary Nicely, CDE’s chief deputy superintendent of public instruction, “It is within the law for them to switch to independent study. And so we’d actually probably prefer that over actual school closures for staffing shortages.” (emphasis ours)

Close readers will observe that switching to independent study was exactly what MUSD did earlier this month, absent any guidance from on high. But in return for its resourcefulness and innovation, and on account of the fallout from its misplaced q-word usage, MUSD found itself sitting and watching as Hayward got the credit for being the first to go for at-home learning during the omicron surge…

Here’s Politico, again, from last week: “The Hayward Unified School District became the first in the state to switch to a district-wide independent study model this week when parents were given the choice to sign up for virtual learning or send their kids to learning hubs, where they’d receive lessons on their laptops under staff supervision.”

Here’s Fox KTVU last Monday: “The Hayward Unified School District will switch to all-remote learning for its 20,000 students on Tuesday, making it the first in the Bay Area to revert to online learning for the next week despite being warned by the county and the state that they should not do that.”

And here’s the San Francisco Chronicle last Monday: “Hayward Unified is returning to remote instruction this week, the first major Bay Area district to revert to online learning amid the omicron surge as districts struggled over the last week to staff classrooms.”

Is Milpitas not “major”? Is that the problem? No. The problem was, MUSD accidentally called the at-home learning option a quarantine, the County objected, the media announced Milpitas was keeping in-school learning after all, a state superintendent validated what Milpitas had done, and in the meantime Hayward’s school district got the credit for going first. (Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned that after Milpitas made its move, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to ease the process by which California schools hire substitutes.)

Now, don’t get me wrong: I love me some Hayward. Hayward deserves every level of respect. But Hayward made its in-person learning vote a day after Milpitas did. And according to Beat sources, Hayward even consulted with Milpitas on what to do. 

So in this case, the credit is owed to Milpitas. Milpitas moved fast. Milpitas had the idea.

And when the scrolls are unrolled and the history is excavated, let the record show it was Milpitas, all along. 

 

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Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer and filmmaker. He has won awards for journalism (CA Journalism Award) and screenwriting (Fade In Award), and has served as a ghostwriter, speechwriter, or script doctor for over 3,000 clients. His first novel is a dark political thriller called "Red Dennis" (2020). His first nonfiction book is a guide for helping writers be more productive called "Ass Plus Seat" (2020). He co-hosts the "House of Mystery Radio Show" on NBC News Radio. Eric's books can be purchased here.

2 COMMENTS

    • What a rude comment! It is actually more work to go remote AND have students in your classroom! Teachers had to work very hard to plan and prep for the switch on no notice.

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