On March 4, the Anaheim Union High School District Board of Education voted 4-1 against returning to in-person on even a limited, hybrid basis, instead deciding to keep their students at home taking online classes for the remainder of the school year. The Board majority did so despite the pleas of parents and students for a return to in-person instruction, and disregarding the science and data that overwhelmingly supports re-opening schools as being in the best interest of children.
In addition to forcing students to continue in a socially-isolated environment, the AUSHD Board is sacrificing millions of dollars in state and federal aid. This is the same Board that last year that its need for funding is so great that is supported a massive statewide property tax increase.
District staff presented a plan under which students at each of the district’s schools would be divided into three “cohorts” – each of which would come to campus one day a week for in-person instruction. The rest of the week would be divided into “synchronous” and “asynchronous” instruction, as the AUSHD terms it.
In plain English, “synchronous instruction” is jargon for remote learning: students login to the computers and teachers conducts classes using Zoom or similar technology. “Asynchronous instruction” is online study hall: time when students are supposed to be on their computers doing school work.
Representatives of all AUSHD employee unions spoke against returning to the classroom and urged the AUSHD Board to remain in virtual mode at least through the end of the school year.
AUSHD Unions Opposed Re-Opening
On March 3, the Anaheim Elementary School District Board of Education voted 3-2 to bring students back to campus for limited, hybrid in-person instruction for the remainder of the school year.
Grant Schuster, president of the union representing AUSHD teachers, urged the Board to stick with virtual schooling and stated – astonishingly – that adopting the limited hybrid model would “take away from the academic and social, emotional support” given to students through online instruction.
Brian Benny, co-president of the union representing the district’s counselors, said returning to in-person instruction was comparable to trying to beat an approaching train at a railroad crossing as the barrier arms are lowering and the bells are clanging.
By contrast, most of the public comments caem from parents and students asking for a resumption of in-person learning, citing the well-known, serious and documented adverse impacts – educational, emotional and psychological – the pandemic closure has inflicted on students.
Although staff devised the hybrid learning plan, their presentation lacked conviction. Their discussion of returning to campaus even included a Power Point presentation by a student representative on a recent district-conducted survey of AUSHD students.
The survey gauged student views of the current virtual learning schedule versus the previous virtual learning system. Most students preferred the current system because it gives them “more time for social activities” – or as staff put it, “letting kids be kids.”
Interesting, but not relevant to the issue before the AUSHD Board: returning to in-person instruction. Amazingly, the survey did not ask student whether or not they want to come back to school. It’s revealing that when surveying its students, the District neglected to ask the most pertinent question of all.
AUSHD Trustees Al Jabbar, Brian O’Neal, Annemarie Randle-Trejo and Katherine Smith all voted to keep students at home for the rest of the school year, trying to learn in front of a laptop for hours a day.
Jabbar has long been the most adamant voice against returning to in-person instruction. At least this time he didn’t deny the reality of learning loss stemming from the prolonged school closure, as he did at the Board’s February 4 meeting.
At the same time, Jabbar made sure to voice his support for the politically popular demand for in-person high school graduation ceremonies.
Trustee Anna Piercy Lone Supporter Of Re-Opening Schools
Only Board President Anna Piercy supported returning to in-person instruction. She noted rapidly declinning COVID cases, and pointed out that the AUSHD has invested significant resources into preparing its campuses for a safe return to in-person instruction, in accordance with COVID-19 safety protocols. She pointed out that thousands of AUSHD students are already activtly participating in school athletics.
Her primary reason was concern for the well-being of students who are sidelined and isolated by the combination of pandemic and school closures.
“I keep thinking about the students who are the silent suffering. The kids that are failing,” said Piercy. “There are D’s. There are F’s. There are the kids who are depressed.” Piercy drew on the example of her grandson, who she said is becoming a recluse who increasingly spends his time in his room as a consequence of virtual learning – and noting how commonplace this has become.
“And so for some of [our students] even one day, getting out of the house and going to school would be an improvement for them,” said Piercy.
Piercy acknowledged those families who remain fearful of returning to school at the time, and that they should be allowed to continue with online schooling. The AUSHD operates a “virtual academy” for this purpose.
Board Majority Ignores Parents, Science
The Centers for Disease Prevention and Controls recommends that schools re-open. Governor Gavin Newsom states it is safe to not only re-open schools, but Disneyland and Angel Stadium, as well.
AUSHD Board members like Al Jabbar and Annemarie Randle-Trejo say “No” – siding with their union allies against parents, students, health experts and the science.