The Upper School Reopening


Hailey Jones, Reporter

On October 19th, the School began it’s reopening process, welcoming back the kindergarten students to engage in on-campus learning. Not long after, more lower school students returned, and according to the School’s Roadmap to Reopening, approximately 80% of lower school students are on campus. 

The week of Dec. 4th, sixth grade students began to return to campus, in succession with an assortment of events hosted by the School to get students reacclimated and on campus. However, given the recent surge in Covid-19 cases, many wondered if the return dates for the upper school would be pushed back or if plans would be altered. 

As of right now, Head of School, Crystal Land reports that the current plan is to reopen the upper school on Tuesday, January 19th: “[The] high school…will be half-density. There’ll be a green week and a gold week.” The 7th and 8th grades will return first in early January, followed by the upper school students. The reopening each grade in the upper school will be staggered, starting with ninth grade, tenth and eleventh, and finally twelfth. Everyone will start with supervised distance learning rooms in small groups and the School will make adjustments as they see fit. “Our goals are to support student learning in person to the greatest extent that we can while also protecting community health and safety,” states Upper School Head Saya McKenna.

In regards to the recent increase in cases, Land explains that “the rates in Alameda County are at about a 3.5% positivity rate, and the Bay Area is in a preemptive shelter-in-place to [prevent] rates [from increasing. This] still allows us to keep our schools open…so we’re prioritizing keeping school open above all else to help out families.”

Land states that “[they’ve] learned from having other kids on campus that we have to practice our systems to make sure [they] work,” including deciding how students will travel through the hallways and which bathrooms will be designated to different groups of students. The School has taken extensive protocols to ensure the safety of its community, such as weekly testing — which according to McKenna would occur on Mondays with results within 48 hours — frequent hand-washing, sanitization, daily health screenings, and keeping windows and doors open to allow for filtration. 

Students also have to ensure that they’re wearing their masks the whole day, and maintain social distancing. “We’re doing everything we can to mitigate [the spread]”, states Land. With the Green and Gold model, “only half of the School would be on campus at any one time. The goal is that we would have fewer than ten kids in a classroom. At no point would we have all 380 high school students [on campus].”

  Despite the School’s eagerness to get students and faculty back on campus, some teachers are hesitant to return. According to a survey conducted by the School after request from the faculty, roughly 25% of faculty are unsure about returning, 20% have medical accommodations or would prefer not to return, and the remainder are willing.  

History Teacher, Mark Schneider states that he’s not willing to return to the School. He reports that while some faculty are willing to go along with the plans, others, especially faculty members with young children and families, wish for more involvement in decision-making and collaboration with administration. Schneider states that “[teachers] get updates every week or two in division meetings and express [their] views…, [however,] at this point––and things are certainly subject to change––there are major concerns that I and a number of other faculty have about the reopening plan, particularly in the areas of safety, quality of instruction, equity, and feasibility. We have met with the administration and expressed these concerns, and offered proposals for how we can improve the reopening plan. It remains to be seen whether these serious concerns will be heeded or disregarded.”  

English Teacher Vy Linh Nguyen shares similar sentiments as Schneider and admits being frustrated in September when information was not being relayed to upper school faculty. However, in the past two months, she reports that communication has improved and more voices are being heard. Nguyen states that she is unsure about returning, and leaning towards not wanting to, however, “[she] doesn’t believe [they] have much of a choice” unless a doctor’s note is provided. She’s particularly interested in starting a conversation surrounding faculty who may not be able to receive medical accommodations and are caught between their job and the safety of their family. Like Schneider, she states that teachers have been “very expressive about [having their voices heard]… and [admin] has been responsive. Initially they were not…but when we pushed back and expressed our concerns, they were increasingly more responsive.” 

Schneider expresses that the transition to hybrid learning may present problems: “[Imagine] teaching to half of a class through a mask and simultaneously teaching the other half on a computer screen. You can’t do both at the same time effectively.” Ensuring that the students who are in distance learning for that day aren’t getting an inferior experience is crucial. Similarly, McKenna states: “We want to remain in good conversation with students. Not everybody’s going to be served by these models equally.” 

As expected, school days will be drastically different than in the past. “[Students] will move about in small groups, [staying] socially distant, eat lunch in designated spaces,” states McKenna. “Although it seems stale to go and take classes in a classroom as opposed to just being in your bedroom, I have observed that there’s still value to that. Students are interacting more than they were at home and there’s more structure and engagement.”