The Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) is moving forward with its plan to reopen high schools in April, now that Los Angeles County has reduced its new COVID-19 cases to reach the State’s red or “substantial” tier of 4 to 7 per day.
Dr. Jay Camerino, LBUSD assistant superintendent of high schools, told the LBUSD Board of Education on Tuesday, March 16 that seniors can return to their campuses on April 19, as planned last month. Ninth through eleventh graders can return on April 26.
Most high-school students responded to a survey due last Friday on whether they wanted to return to campus or remain at home to continue distance learning. About half chose to return to in-person instruction, Camerino said.
However, 35% of high schoolers have not yet started or completed their surveys. LBUSD has been reaching out to them this week to get an accurate count of how many students it can expect on campus in less than a month.
Camerino said schools can safely accommodate as many students as want to return to campuses, especially since they will be divided into two alternating groups, A and B. Since only about half of students chose to return, only a quarter of total students will be on campus at any one time.
If a student chooses to return, they will come to campus two to three days per week in a hybrid learning model and learn virtually at home on the other school days.
The hybrid model juggles multiple components, considering each school’s type of block schedule; alternating schedules for Groups A and B; and accommodating virtual learners who choose not to be on campus at all.
Edward Samuels, LBUSD director of high schools, said the district sent letters to high schoolers’ families at the end of February detailing what the hybrid schedule looks like at each student’s school for the first three weeks.
Students in some high schools – Cabrillo, Jordan, Lakewood and Renaissance – attend all eight learning periods on Mondays, odd-numbered periods on Tuesdays and Thursdays and even-numbered periods on Wednesdays and Fridays.
They will continue that learning structure in the hybrid model, but Group A will alternate with Group B in being on campus for those learning periods.
Students at Browning, CAMS and Sato high schools have a similar schedule, except they attend all eight learning periods on Fridays rather than Mondays.
The remaining high schools – McBride, Millikan, Poly and Wilson – simply alternate odd and even periods each day. In the hybrid model, Group A will attend in-person classes two days back-to-back, alternating with two at home, and switching with Group B for being on campus.
Board Member Doug Otto likened the scheduling complexity to choosing a winning college basketball team during March Madness.
Camerino said the hybrid model maximizes the amount of in-person learning for all students – both those in class and at home – including time to work with teachers.
In order to accommodate both in-person and online learners, teachers will project work from digital platforms and document-cameras onto screens in class that virtual students can see at the same time on their screens at home.
Online students can also see and hear their teachers through a classroom camera.
Samuels said the District prioritized keeping online students’ schedules the same for consistency.
“We did not want to change their schedules,” Samuels said. “We want them to remain with their same teachers. And we also wanted to ensure they were able to learn as much of the content as possible.”
When the District shifted to online learning in March last year, it reduced the number of student classes to five or six rather than the full eight on the advice of counselors, so each student only had to attend two to three classes per day, Camerino said.
That minimal load will continue for the rest of this semester, which ends June 16. Students on campus will have time to participate in clubs, sports and other extracurricular activities.
Camerino said the District is working on some kind of ceremony for graduating seniors like it did last year. And freshmen who have not yet been to campus can visit over the next two weeks to meet teachers and staff, maintaining safety protocols outdoors.
A teacher at Wilson High School, who asked not to be named due to job concerns, told the Signal Tribune she is happy to be returning to in-person instruction soon.
Though she is currently teaching virtually from her classroom, she is bored doing so talking to a computer in an empty room.
However, not all teachers feel the same way, she said, mostly due to safety concerns.
“Emotions are very extreme regarding the return of students,” she said. “What if a kid won’t wear a mask in the classroom? There is a lot of fear that safety protocols will not be handled properly.”