On Dec. 16, the Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) Board of Education met to discuss, among other items, the development of a plan for reopening schools. School reopening is tentatively scheduled for March/April 2021, though it is important to note all timelines are simply goals and dependent on the number of COVID-19 cases in Alameda County. Much of the reopening planning is mandated by the county and under AB 10, a California bill which will force schools to reopen if COVID-19 cases go down.
Before creating any timelines, FUSD released a survey for parents/guardians to assess the efficacy of distance learning and understand the community’s point of view on reopening. The survey was filled out by over 13,100 respondents and, according to Superintendent CJ Cammack, “34% of parents and guardians are satisfied with distance learning, with another 34% somewhat satisfied.” This leaves about 32% of parents and guardians who are presumably not satisfied with distance learning, showing a roughly equal split in each category. This reveals major issues with distance learning and the necessity to return to school as soon as possible.
Reopening, however, is also relatively unpopular. 49% of survey respondents said they would prefer to learn remotely for the rest of the year, 19% wanted to begin hybrid schooling closer to spring, and 13% wanted to reopen as soon as possible. This raises the question: If schools are forced to reopen via AB 10, will parents be forced to send their children to school against their will? The question was not addressed directly by the board.
There are various other considerations to be made regarding reopening, including the necessary criteria for the process to begin. FUSD wants to be able to comply with all state and local health regulations, guarantee the safety of the staff, ensure educational equality, and provide transparent communication. This, in turn, necessitates extra cleaning staff, testing, and safety training for students and faculty.
However, there are also many negative perspectives on the plan proposed.
“There was no student survey, which was a little disappointing for me,” said Zayaan Khan (11), the student representative on the board from the Students United for Representation to the Fremont Unified School District Board of Education (SURFBoardE). “I would obviously hope that student’s opinions would be taken into account […] especially for huge decisions like this.”
The budget required to adequately safeguard faculty, staff, and students was also called into question at the meeting by Fremont Unified District Teachers Association President Victoria Birbeck-Herrera, who claimed that a large portion of the initial $16.1 million from the CARES Act Learning Loss Mitigation Funds has already been spent.
“The $12.1 million [that has been spent] was split up in several areas,” said Khan, “including the Learning Continuity Plan, which makes sure high-needs students get specialized care; protecting staff whose job descriptions have changed during COVID-19; personal protective equipment for staff; $10 million allocated towards technology such as chromebooks; and supplies and salaries for child nutrition staff.”
It is indeterminate whether the remaining $4 million will be enough to support the entirety of reopening even in a hybrid model, which will likely require classes to shift desks and other furniture and use plexiglass to socially distance and decrease the viral spread.
A positive step in the district plan is the creation of a website interface where students, parents, and teachers will be able to access a ‘return to campus plan’ with timelines, FAQs, and plan details. This particular initiative was welcomed by every party in attendance of the board meeting.
Reopening is still fundamentally dependent on the number of cases in Alameda County. With Fremont in the purple zone (widespread) as of the time this article was written, there is very little chance schools will open in the winter. However, with the development of a vaccine and more time in lockdown, spring of 2021 could see a major decline in cases and along with it requirements for schools to open, forcing FUSD to follow this plan.