On October 1, the Alameda Department for Public Health announced that elementary schools were allowed to open as early as October 13. Further decisions on timing and logistics lie within specific schools and their districts, as a complete COVID-19 health and safety reopening plan must be submitted to reopen.
While Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) is still working on their reopening schedule, Head-Royce, a private school in Oakland, has already begun the reopening process for their Lower School (K-5) students. The school is now one week into their tentative on-campus reopening, and could provide a valuable model for other Bay Area schools to follow.
Head-Royce’s reopening plan involves three phases, the first of which began on October 19. On Monday, Head-Royce allowed Kindergarten through first grade students on campus for half-days of in-person instruction. This keeps second through fifth graders at home for distance learning. On October 27, they began to include second and third graders for half school days as well. Finally, on November 2, all Lower School grades K-5 were permitted on campus for full days of instruction on campus.
To accommodate social distancing guidelines, classes have been modified to cohorts of 10 students that will stay together for the duration of the school day. Cohorts will remain in the same classroom, while specialist teachers will rotate in and out. Additionally, there will be staggered start times to allow all students to enter and exit campus safely.
The Head-Royce campus has been retrofitted for enhanced safety measures as well. Expanded nurses stations, plexiglass barriers, hand sanitizing stations, and daily cleaning are all being implemented on campus. Head-Royce has also partnered with a lab to provide Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) surveillance saliva COVID-19 testing for students and staff. Testing is required before entering campus and a face covering must be worn at all times.
As for middle and upper school students at Head-Royce, the plan remains without a start date. When permitted by the county, Head-Royce plans to switch from their 100 percent distance learning model to a blended model, both on and off campus.
This blended schedule splits the 6-12 grades into two groups, which each have two designated days of the week on campus. One day a week will be spent completely online. For the group not on campus on a certain day, classrooms will be equipped with a camera and tripod setup for students to follow along at home. This way, students may keep up with the curriculum at an efficient pace.
The plan to reopen Head-Royce is both thorough and plausible, which could be a positive sign for the reopening of other Bay Area schools. However, Head-Royce’s status as a private school plays a big factor into the efficiency of their plan, something BUSD is struggling with.
Mina Mangewala, a Head-Royce parent and Hayward Unified School District teacher, brought up the significant discrepancies that public and private education have. “At Head-Royce, the tuition that we pay goes toward the technology if the kids need it or paying for extra cleaning if they need it. In public schools, they’re trying super hard to do this, but they’re not getting extra money; they have limited funding from the state,” Mangewala said.
Thus, a plan that involves strong safety measures and allows students to return to campus is significantly harder for public schools than for private schools.
Nonetheless, Bay Area schools, including Berkeley High School (BHS), will continue to look at Head-Royce as a model for future opening plans. “If it goes well, then other Bay Area schools may follow suit,” said Arissa Mangewala, a ninth grader at Head-Royce. “But if it does end up flopping and turning out badly, I think it’ll be a good test to see how things could work out better in the future.”