Story by Zoe Schlaak
Associate Sports Editor
Photo courtesy of Abigail Silver
The School Board approved the return to campus for SPMS and SPHS students using hybrid learning schedules on Thursday, Apr. 8 and Thursday, Apr. 15, respectively, at a special meeting on Thursday, Mar. 4.
SPMS has already created an unapproved hybrid model, but no specific details were outlined during the meeting, and SPHS has not yet confirmed an in-person model or period schedule.
Board members were split on a reopening date for the middle school, with Dr. Michele Kipke motioning for students to return to the SPMS campus on Tuesday, Apr. 6, while Dr. Suzie Abajian recommended Monday, Apr. 12. As a compromise, Kipke ended up amending her motion’s reopening date to Thursday, Apr. 8, which was unanimously approved.
With the high school, Kipke moved to bring students back to campus on Apr. 15. However, Abajian voiced concern that there was currently no concrete hybrid instructional model, and thus setting a return date was premature. Nonetheless, the Board approved the SPHS reopening date 4 to 1, with Abajian abstaining.
SPMS and SPHS principals Cheryl Busick and Janet Anderson presented their teachers’ concerns to the Board, as well as their suggestions for in-person schedules and instruction, which included shortened class days and possible all-days. Both expressed confidence in returning back as soon as possible with the proper protocol.
“I think we just need to be really aware of our [safety] and help [students] feel comfortable being around one another [when we return to campus],” Anderson said. “I know they miss their teachers, I know they miss each other, and I know the teachers miss them.”
Teachers largely opposed secondary school reopening and the SPUSD’s hybrid model drafted last summer, and reiterated their feelings that the district has not considered their wellbeing and perspectives in its actions regarding school reopening. Many urged the School Board to host collaborative conversations with teachers to learn their opinions and ideas.
SPHS computer science teacher Garrett Shorr explained that he is not comfortable teaching in-person during the pandemic, and he condemned the district for putting teachers in an unsafe position.
“You have given no indication you will respect me or my colleagues who want to remain teaching remotely until this pandemic is actually over,” Shorr said. “You are making me choose between participating in what I believe to be a reckless unsafe and ill-conceived physical reopening plan or applying to take a leave… I feel like [I’d be] letting my students down, some of whom I’ve taught for four years.”
SPMS science teacher Eva Muniz expressed that teachers would struggle to teach students in the classroom and over Zoom simultaneously.
“Hybrid teaching is asking teachers to be everything for everyone,” Muniz said. “Putting both in-person students and distance learning students together in the same class creates an unmanageable workload for teachers and an unsafe environment for students.”
Students and parents stated that distance learning has proved harmful for students’ mental health and education, and urged Board members to approve the in-person return.
“As a parent of two SPHS students, I see the toll a year of distance learning is taking on our teens,” an anonymous parent said. “As an educator myself at another district, I have been working with students in person since September without a vaccine or any problems so I am not asking teachers to do anything I myself am unwilling to do. I hope South Pasadena will put our children first [by reopening schools as soon as possible].”
Numerous SPHS students also expressed the toll online learning has taken on their wellbeing.
“It’s frustrating seeing high school students in numerous other states and even nearby in other California counties being able to attend in-person classes while we are stuck online,” junior Gabriella Rodriguez said. “The lack of social interaction for this long is really harmful to our mental health — it is time for high schoolers to return to school.”
L.A. County needs to reach the red tier, which is categorized by an adjusted case rate of between 4 and 7 per 100,000, in order to reopen secondary schools. According to Superintendent Geoff Yantz, L.A. County is expected to drop from the purple to red tier in the next few weeks, after which it must remain there for two weeks before school districts can begin in-person learning. Districts in the red tier must reopen elementary schools and at least one secondary grade level by Thursday, Apr. 1, or by Monday, Apr. 6 for SPUSD and other districts which are on Spring Break during the typical deadline, in order to receive additional state grant funding.
SPUSD has remained in complete distance learning since quarantine began last year on Monday, Mar. 16, until grades TK to second returned to campus on Thursday, Feb. 18 in A.M. and P.M. groups, made possible by a steady decline in coronavirus cases since January. The remaining elementary grades will also return soon, with the current reopening dates for third graders set for Thursday, Mar. 11, and for fourth and fifth graders Monday, Mar. 15.
The district, SPMS, and SPHS are expected to release more detailed information about reopening soon. The School Board meets next on Tuesday, Mar. 9.