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Reopening high schools gets ugly, divisive in Bay Area district where rich and poor mix

Susanne Rust, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

MENLO PARK, Calif. — South of San Francisco, the Sequoia Union High School District serves some of the Bay Area’s wealthiest communities, such as Atherton, Menlo Park and Woodside, as well as some of its neediest, including East Palo Alto, North Fair Oaks and Redwood City.

On Tuesday, the school district learned it had risen into a state tier that would allow high school students, if they chose, to resume on-campus learning. At the urging of many parents, district leaders on Wednesday announced an April reopening plan.

That is when things got ugly.

“How many deaths will you accept as collateral for your two months of school? Can you live with that?” Alison Mock, a teacher at East Palo Alto Academy asked the district’s board of trustees in a contentious Zoom meeting on Wednesday.

Reopenings of high schools in the Bay Area provide a window into conflicts sure to play out in Los Angeles and other parts of California as more counties move into red and orange tiers. Schools in wealthier areas tend to be more willing — and better prepared — than their poorer counterparts to restart in-class instruction, at least in L.A. County, as the Los Angeles Times revealed in an investigation earlier this month.

In the Sequoia Union district, some teachers feel the reopening process has been too rushed and urged students to apply pressure on their parents to stop it.


“Expect a rant the next time u see me,” wrote one history teacher at Menlo Atherton High School to his junior-level U.S. history class on Thursday. “If u don’t want this to be happening, I will highly encourage you to encourage your parents to go full karen on the school and at the school board meeting.”

Low coronavirus case counts and other factors led California to drop San Mateo County into the red tier this week, allowing for high schools to reopen, as long as they follow strict guidelines on distancing, classroom ventilation and reducing class sizes to 25%.

In a deal negotiated between the district and the Sequoia District Teachers Association, the students in the district’s eight high schools could choose to return to campus on April 5 for a term scheduled to end June 4.

The plan, as described Wednesday and seen in point-by-point slides provided to some students the next day, would involve a hybrid form of instruction in which four small cohorts of students would return to campus two days a week, every two weeks.


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