Returning to Learning FAQs

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FAQs / Returning to Learning

July 29, 2020


What guidance is driving PVSD's Returning to Learning plan?

There are three primary documents that drive PVSD’s plans:

The California Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Industry Guidance: Schools and School-Based Programs

The California Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 and Reopening In-Person Learning Framework for K-12 Schools in California, 2020-2021 School Year

San Mateo County’s Coalition for Safe Schools and Communities Pandemic Recovery Framework

These documents are revised as new information becomes available to the county and the state.

On July 17, 2020 Governor Newsom announced additional guidance for school districts. The guidance details that the state’s County Monitoring List will determine if school districts could return students to campus for in-person learning. The monitoring list tracks a number of metrics related to elevated disease transmissions and increasing hospitalizations.  An explanation of the data being monitored may be found here: California County Monitoring and an updated list of the counties on the monitoring list may be found here: COVID19County Data Table.


What model will PVSD use to return to learning this school year?

On July 16, the PVSD Board of Trustees approved a model that prioritizes bringing all students to campus when health conditions permit.

We will not be implementing a “hybrid model” where teachers’ classes are split between at-home and in-person simultaneously. Our teachers and their classes will move between school and home together, as a unit.

When health conditions do not permit in-person learning, we will utilize Distance Learning.

Families who are uncomfortable or unable to have their student(s) participate in on-campus instruction will be able to enroll their students in PV Virtual Academy.

Is PVSD an outlier district in prioritizing all students returning to campus when health conditions allow?

It is true that most local districts are not planning a model of having the entire student population on campus all at once. This is generally the case because when you look at the requirements for physical distancing and you look at the physical campus buildings and staffing available, most districts are unable to fit their population on their campuses under the health guidelines.

PVSD is fortunate to be well resourced, with small class sizes compared to most local districts. Many districts would love to copy our Returning to Learning plan, but simply can’t afford the resources to implement our model. However, there are a few districts (such as Hillsborough and Woodside) that have similar resources to PVSD, and they are also planning on having all of their students on campus every day (when conditions allow).

Why aren’t you choosing a model that splits teachers’ classes and alternates days on-campus and at home, with fewer students on campus each day?

This is an option (commonly referred to as an A/B cohort model) that was seriously considered in the initial Returning to Learning planning. Although many school districts seem to be choosing such a model, the actual day-to-day mechanics are challenging for teachers and learners. Typically teachers in this model teach a full day of in-person instruction each day, while simultaneously managing the education of a different cohort of students at home. We believe that such a model is unlikely to deliver quality distance learning during the days that students are not on campus.

Once it began to appear possible to have all kids on campus every day, enthusiasm in the planning committee rapidly turned to exploring that option instead. It is believed that the educational experience of in-person instruction would be far superior to an A/B cohort model. Additionally, because the 4 Pillars from the Pandemic Recovery Framework will be followed to the greatest degree possible when bringing all students back to campus, we feel this is the best in-person approach.

Why can’t teachers share a livestream of their class instruction to distance learners logged in from home?

Schools that are using live streaming in many cases are doing so because they have A/B Cohort groups and it’s the only way to deliver the same content to all students. We are fortunate to have the resources in place to have all our students in school at the same time (or at home at the same time), while following frameworks from the county and state.

What data or metrics does the District follow to understand what’s happening with COVID in our community?

We regularly consult these resources for reliable data:

San Mateo County Public Health Data
San Mateo County data relative to the Bay Area, state and nation
California Department of Public Health COVID-19 County Data Monitoring

We pay particularly close attention to:

Disease Transmission
Case rate per 100,000
Positivity rate (what % of tests given are positive)
Hospitalization Rates and Hospital Capacity (here)

Please remember that we must also have an eye toward surrounding counties from which our teachers and staff commute when assessing local data trends.

Does the superintendent’s July 24 recommendation to begin the school year in Distance Learning mean we are abandoning the 100% in person part of our model?

Absolutely not. Distance Learning has always been part of the model approved by the Board of Trustees.

The recommendation on July 24 was to commit to Distance Learning for the 1st quarter (through approximately Oct 30) and then move through a series of phases to return everyone to campus full-time by the end of the first semester.

This is a part of the overall Returning to Learning Plan that is scheduled to be presented at an Aug 6 Board meeting and approved on Aug 13.

phased in


Why did the Superintendent recommend beginning the year in distance learning?

The decision to return to campus depends on (1) the current health conditions in our county and the Bay Area and (2) our evaluation of our current abilities to keep both staff and students safe at school, according to State and County Guidance.

We will not be implementing a “hybrid model” where teachers’ classes are split between at-home and in-person simultaneously. Our teachers and their classes will move between school and home together, as a unit.

When health conditions do not permit in-person learning, we will utilize Distance Learning.

Families who are uncomfortable or unable to have their student(s) participate in on-campus instruction will be able to enroll their students in PV Virtual Academy.

What do the teachers think about returning to campus under current conditions?

A majority of the Portola Valley Teachers’ Association membership signed this public statement.

Why would other “essential service” employees be safe to return to work but not our teachers and school staff?

Scientists continue to learn more every day about this virus, but what seems clear at this time is the likelihood of spread increases in accordance with the amount of exposure or the “dose” of the virus. “Dose” is based on two factors:

  • Proximity, how physically close people are to each other, and
  • Time, how much time people spend in close proximity.


The risk is comparatively higher for our teachers and staff than many other essential service employees because they must remain in relatively close contact (classroom space) for a majority of the time they are at work (5 hours or more). PVSD’s Returning to Learning Plan will use several strategies to mitigate the risk for those who work with our students each day, including:
  • Implementation of the Four Pillars detailed in the San Mateo County Pandemic Recovery Framework
  • Smaller class sizes
  • A modified daily schedule to minimize contacts

Effective implementation of the Four Pillars can significantly reduce community spread within a school so that in-person learning can be sustained with integrity.

Where are we in the process? When will we know how our children will return to school?

On August 6th, there will be a special school board meeting during which the final proposed plan for returning to learning will be presented. At this meeting the Board of Trustees will have a chance to review the plan with all of its details and ask any remaining questions.

On August 13, the Board of Trustees will meet to approve the final plan.


On August 13, if the Board approves the Returning to Learning Plan, does the plan also need to be approved by the teachers’ union?

No. The plan will adhere to guidance being given by San Mateo County and the State of California. As long as this is the case, our teachers will have a safe and appropriate work environment, which is what we are committing to providing them.

Did the Board make changes to the Academic Calendar for 2020-21 and the first day of school?

Yes! The first day of school for students is now Friday, August 21. This allows our teachers and staff extra planning time. Previously scheduled “days off” for professional development during the school year were moved to the beginning of the year. The new approved calendar is here.

Are other schools finding ways to start their school year in person rather than in Distance Learning?

We are starting to see local schools/districts announce that they will spend the first quarter to semester of the new school year in Distance Learning. These include:

  • Sequoia Union High School District (see announcement here)
  • Woodside Priory (see announcement here)
  • Las Lomitas Elementary District (see announcement here)
  • Woodside Elementary District (see announcement here)

Why would PVSD suggest “phasing in” to in-person instruction?

Incremental implementation of the District’s Returning to Learning Plan is well supported by international examples and mirrors county and statewide processes for reopening society. These incremental steps provide a careful approach to returning students and staff to in-person learning. While we realize this is difficult for many families and reduces the total amount of time spent in person teaching and learning, it allows us to reality check the particulars of our plan while maintaining a safe and healthy environment.

Once the Board approves the reopening of campuses for in-person instruction:

  • Families who choose the Virtual Academy option will begin instruction through that program
  • Classes will begin by meeting on campus two days per week, and learning from home the other three days per week.
  • Grades will be assigned either a Mon/Thur or Tues/Fri on-campus schedule.
  • Wednesdays will eventually be added for all grades to attend in person one day per week, increasing the number of days on campus from two to three.
  • Finally, all grades will return to campus 5 days a week.

Will we have to go through all the phases described to return to campus every time we go in and out of Distance Learning?

No. The proposed phases are intended to help us learn from experience and modify procedures and protocols as necessary at the outset. Once we have used and tested our plans and facilities under these new conditions, we expect to be able to move directly in and out of Phase 3 (full-time, on-campus instruction).

What guidance does the state of California provide about when a school would need to quarantine students and teachers?

If 5% of students and teachers in a classroom test positive for the virus, the classroom will be closed, followed by 14 days of quarantine.

  • For PVSD this would mean a classroom would be closed if anyone in the class tested positive.

If multiple cohorts or 5% of students and teachers at a school test positive, the entire school would have to close, with everyone subject to 14 days of quarantine.

  • For PVSD this would mean 12 positives on one campus.
  • If the district had a 5% positive rate, the district would shut down.

If 25% of a district’s schools close, the entire district will close, with everyone subject to 14 days of quarantine. (CDPH summary Reopening Doc pg. 3)

  • For PVSD this means if one school closes, both schools close.

How will our schools handle COVID cases and contacts? Will a COVID test be required before returning to campus?

The county has developed a communication structure for school districts that will be used when there is a case or a contact impacting school classrooms or sites. We will be relying on guidance from the County Public Health Department, provided through the County Office of Education, for reporting and decision-making.

The state has also provided guidance on appropriate actions to take.


If a school is closed for in-person learning, when may it reopen?

Schools may typically reopen after 14 days and the following have occurred:

  • Cleaning and disinfection
  • Public health investigation
  • Consultation with the local public health department

What will happen when kids or teachers show signs of being sick, but it may not be COVID?

In order for schools to work effectively during this pandemic, we will need to call on our “better angels” as we make individual decisions for ourselves and our students. Our teachers and staff members will need to stay home if they feel sick, just as our parents will need to keep their students home if they are not feeling well or have been exposed to COVID. We will simply need to set those expectations and count on each other to abide by them. We are creating clear plans and protocols for what to do.

Temperature checks will take place before children enter the classroom and the goal would be to send a sick child home before they enter the classroom. Should a child become ill during the school day, each site will have an “isolation” area where that child will go until a parent can take the child home. An adult on campus - yet to be determined - would watch over that child.

Please refer to the COVID-19 Industry Guidance for Schools and School Based Programs for additional information.

Will on-campus instruction look similar to previous years?

No. The health and safety protocols that must be followed to safely return to campus will impact the classroom. While we continue to believe that students learn best in person, PVSD families should be prepared for the following:

  • Staggered arrivals and departures
  • Health screenings upon arrival to campus
  • Smaller class sizes
  • Physically distanced seating arrangements in classrooms, leaving minimal opportunity for students or teachers to move about the room
  • Students staying primarily in the same classroom while teachers either rotate in or provide elective instruction online
  • Face coverings worn by both students and teachers
  • Less classroom collaboration and group work, using outdoor spaces and technology to support these activities to the greatest extent possible
  • Physically distanced lunches and recess
  • Limits on shared materials

Will distance learning look similar to last Spring?

No. We are working to improve upon the work we did online last Spring. There are also new state requirements for distance learning:

  • Students and families must have access to devices; schools can support this.
  • There must be daily, live interaction with teachers and other students.
  • Assignments must be equivalent to in-person assignments, should be engaging within the constraints of distance learning, and assignments should be challenging.
  • Students with additional needs (homeless, foster youth, English Learners, those receiving Special Education services) must receive additional and appropriate support.
  • Learning is a non-negotiable.

How much time will be given to live-video/synchronous learning?

It will depend on the grade-level. Not everything will be live or synchronous. Students will not be expected to be in front of their computer the entire school day but will have a schedule of times when they are expected to be on and participating in lessons, discussions, projects, etc.

Are there requirements about the number of instructional minutes offered in a school day?

Yes! According to the recently released legislation in CA Senate Bill 98, instructional minutes can be met in any combination of in-person, live synchronous, and independent asynchronous work.

Per Education Code 3501, for the 2020–21 school year, the minimum school day for a local educational agency is as follows:

  • 180 instructional minutes in kindergarten
  • 230 instructional minutes in grades 1 to 3
  • 240 instructional minutes in grades 4 to 8

How instructional minutes are measured depends on mode of instruction:

  • In-classroom: minutes are based on time spent under immediate physical supervision and control of a certificated employee
  • Distance Learning: minutes based on the time value of assignments as determined by a certificated employee
  • If there are school days when students receive both On Campus and Distance Learning instruction, time under immediate physical supervision will be combined with time value of assignments

Outdoor learning seems to be a good strategy to create safe and healthy campuses. How will we take advantage of being outdoors?

Administrators and teachers are currently attending webinars focused on maximizing use of outdoor learning spaces. Teachers always have the option of teaching students outdoors, which will be encouraged. Enhancements will be made to help facilitate outdoor learning, and teachers will sign-up for use of outdoor areas. Outdoor learning spaces will be a supplemental, rather than primary, learning space for students.

How will we reduce class and cohort sizes?

Class sizes are being reduced by identifying families who will choose to have their children attend school virtually, regardless of the design of the programs that are being developed for in-person, on-campus instruction. Class sizes will further be reduced by utilizing our specialists as classroom teachers.

What is the plan for substitute teachers?

Currently, we are in the process of hiring dedicated long-term substitute teachers for each site. This helps provide stability whether we are learning in person or through distance learning. We are working with the County Office of Education in navigating the ways in which long-term substitute teachers can work safely and effectively at school sites.

The Governor's guidance mentioned that elementary schools (K-5) may apply for a waiver, which would allow a return to on-campus learning. Will PVSD apply for one for K-5?

San Mateo County Health is working with the State to create a waiver application process. If approved, a waiver would allow classroom instruction for Elementary Schools (K-5) when a county is on the State Monitoring List. Currently, no Middle or High School waivers are available. We do not know when that process will be announced or how long it might take to receive a waiver. We generally know that the County Health Officer would review the waivers and then forward to the California Department of Public Health for final approval. San Mateo County will be developing a county-specific process and once we receive all the information, we will update the FAQ's and determine the best course per our Returning to Learning Plan.