The reopening process: negotiations, hybrid-learning, and standardized testing

Mengting Chang 

Staff Writer

     On March 5th, FUSD released their COVID-19 safety plan detailing the phases of their reopening plan as well as precautions and protocols to ensure public safety. Following this news, teachers are preparing to come back to a hybrid-learning system while FUDTA (Fremont Unified District Teachers Association), and FUSD wrap up reopening negotiations. FUSD is working to iron out the logistics on student and staff safety as well as standardized testing. Overall, many milestones have been reached in the process of reopening.

     On March 8th, learning hubs made their way to elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. In particular, AHS had two learning pods each containing a maximum of 10 students, spaced six feet apart. The spots were given to students that were most in need of in-person learning.

     In a board meeting on March 10th, the FUSD Superintendent, Christopher Cammack, gave a presentation updating everyone on the return to campus plan. According to the presentation, over 4,400 FUSD employees have been invited to receive their vaccine thanks to Haller’s Pharmacy and the Fremont Fire Department since then. The mass number of employees vaccinated will allow for a quicker return to campus, and Superintendent Cammack further explains his philosophy on pushing for the hybrid model.

     “This is a transition back to in-person. We want it to the extent, practical. We want to build stable cohorts. And, we also have [an] obligation under SB 98 to continue providing a full distance learning model. But as I shared earlier, we also want to provide the optional in-person instruction for those who desire to return from our student population,” Cammack said.

     On March 11th, FUSD released their counter proposal for special education, elementary and safety protocols. In an interview with FUDTA President Victoria Birbeck-Herrera, it was made known that FUDTA included proposed language that was directly cited from the district’s safety plan, but was stricken down by FUSD during negotiations. 

     “So if you get to page 21… you see a lot of the red language that’s crossed out… that is directly from the district safety plan and we say ‘great, agree to follow that contractually in this legally binding document.’ That is our working conditions… And the district is sending their proposal back and saying, ‘no, we’re not going to agree to that,’” says the FUDTA President.

     Contract language is known to include omissions and ambiguities, however in this case, it is crucial that the district honors the safety plan by signing a contract that legally binds them. So far, the public is eager to get kids back in schools but teachers are reluctant about this omission.

     “If we have it in our contract, we can take remedies as a union to make sure that it’s safe and they follow it. When they don’t want to put in our contract, what they’re saying is, let’s just let the county figure out if we’re not doing it, and we’ll let the county handle that. But things are so chaotic right now, we know that wouldn’t happen.” Birbeck-Herrera explains.

     Luckily, on March 18th, FUSD released their counter proposal for secondary schools including the distribution of learning cohorts and the proposed bell schedule. FUSD has confirmed in this document that they agree to follow state requirements and county orders through the reopening process. As of March 18th, this article is up to date however more negotiations are set to happen on the week of March 22nd.

     As the proposed reopening day, April 19th, slowly approaches, teachers brainstorm how they will operate a hybrid classroom. For Mr. Creger, an English teacher, he is excited to return to his classroom and to experiment with hybrid learning.

     “I might regret being excited about it when it comes to actually hit me in the face. But I’m imagining having most of my students on the screen in the classroom. [You] pull the screen down, [and] most of them will be up on the screen. And then there’ll be seven or eight kids in the room. In our worst case, they’ll just have their laptops open, right? And it’ll be just like, they were at home, only they’ll be in class. But I’m going to try to have them actually do something,” he says.

     On the other hand, Charitha Gangi, a junior at AHS, is reluctant for students to return.

     “We could start seeing COVID cases going back up just because of meeting in person. And I also know that you can’t really regulate student interaction. I know that the dress code and the masks aren’t the exact same thing, but you have seen how much high schoolers really respect the dress code. I feel like if we did go back in person, there would be some individuals who like neglect that neglect those,” she expresses.

     Of course, another detail in the conversation is mandated testing. English learners have been taking the ELPAC (English Language Proficiency Assessments of California) tests throughout March and the testing window ends on April 30th. Ms. Smith, the chair of the English department, has been responsible for conducting the test and describes her experience.

     “There [are] so many variables that are in place with trying to find students. And then we have issues with the California testing browser. For the listening, reading, and writing tests, the students have to be able to access the California secure browser. And I’ll remind you that we are assessing our English learners. So on some levels, it feels like after I’ve spent 45 minutes troubleshooting with a student who’s sharing their computer screen… and get to a point where they’re able to take the test. On some levels, it feels like an assessment of their English skills is now redundant, because in order to access the test, they had to navigate so much listening, speaking, reading, in order to get just to the beginning of the test.” she states.

     But this isn’t all. CAASPP testing, which wasn’t administered in the 2019-2020 school year, is set to occur this year without concrete plans for execution.

     “We don’t know exactly what that schedule is going to look like yet because we don’t know exactly what the test is going to look like. We know what it’s looked like in the past, so we know what the longest length will be. But we’re hoping from the state for an ability to abbreviate that test somewhat.” Mrs. Smith explains.

     In addition, AP Testing will also be delayed. AHS will follow administration 2 of the 3 testing options which is about 2 weeks later than normal. For many AP classes, this gives a much needed breather in spreading out stress. 

     We are just starting to rise from our hibernation during the COVID-19 winter, but we don’t have much time before the school year ends. As the district pushes for reopening, Gangi (11) is pessimistic about its results.

     “I think it’s just like too late in the school year for it to make a difference at all,” she states.

     Much uncertainty is still in the air. When hybrid-learning is initiated, students may not find it to be effective. Classes may be swapped around and merged to accommodate for the learning model and teachers may have new students. There are also many questions revolving around standardized testing that are still unanswered. This level of uncertainty less than a month before the reopening date, April 19th, can leave some skeptical of the reopening plans. A very important question posed by Mr Creger echoes this same skepticism.

“Are the kids who are at risk of mental and emotional deterioration going to benefit from six or seven weeks of getting readjusted?”

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