School board’s decision to end asynchronous Wednesdays angers students and teachers

April 25, 2021 — by Shreya Rallabandi and Harshini Velchamy
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Photo by Courtesy of Shreya Rallabandi

(From left to right) Juniors Johnny Hulme, Grace Hsu, Alaina Srivastav, Shivali Kattumadam, Noora Fayad and Benjamin Bray speak against the proposal for Phase 4A the district board meeting on April 20

At its April 20 meeting, the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District (LGSUHSD) Board announced the revised plan for Phase 4A — the final stage of the district’s reopening plan outlined at the beginning of the school year — inciting a wave of backlash from students and teachers, especially about the end of asynchronous Wednesdays that have been a popular and necessary part of remote learning. 

Phase 4A will begin on May 3 and continue until the end of the school year. Phase 4A combines all in-person students into a single cohort that meets five days a week; all students who wish to go will be allowed to attend class in-person. 

Wednesdays will alternate between red day (1, 3, 5, 7) and blue day (2, 4, 6) schedules with 50-minute periods, and grab-and-go lunches will be provided for students after seventh period. For the rest of the week, classes will remain 75 minutes, and passing periods will be increased to 15 minutes. The school board backed down from its original plan to have 80-minute periods five days a week and 10-minute passing periods.

The introduction of 4A makes LGSUHSD the first public school district in Santa Clara County to pursue a one-cohort, five day a week model.

The board’s decision garnered a 91 percent disapproval rating from LGSUHSD students and faculty, according to a recent survey with over 480 responses conducted by members of the SHS Leadership class. Los Gatos students also created a change.org petition advocating for the board to allow Wednesdays to remain asynchronous. As of April 22, the petition had over 1,200 signatures from both Los Gatos and Saratoga students.

But superintendent Michael Grove said students’ objections won’t alter the current plans.

“There wasn't a specific consultation of students for this, quite honestly,” he said. “We never surveyed students about the 3A schedule or the 3B schedule — that hasn't ever been done. So the fact that that didn't occur with or 4A is no different.”

According to Grove, this transition was implemented by the school board to increase the district’s in-person instructional minutes.

“Every school district is obligated to maximize the amount of in-person learning to the greatest degree possible,” Grove said. “In general, it’s better for kids to be on campus and the instruction would be better than what they’re going to get in a purely online setting. That was our primary motivation [to start phase 4A].”

Following new data from the Centers for Disease Control, the district decided on 3-feet separation between students instead of the previous 6 feet. More important factors to reduce COVID-19 transmission are mask wearing and proper ventilation, authorities say. In addition, the administration has received intense pressure from some vocal parents to reopen. 

“We have a group of parents who are very actively threatening us with lawsuits about [not maximizing in-person learning] and have begun really applying a lot of demands to reopen our schools more quickly and more broadly,” Grove said. “The issue [of reopening] became highly political.”

Prior to implementing Phase 4A, the district consulted local elementary schools and other high school districts in California that had reopened with similar models. They also conducted a survey asking parents whether or not they would send their child to school for four or five days a week, reporting that 77.1 percent of parents were in support. 

“The reality is that kids need to be in school,” said Los Gatos parent Suzanne Nestor, a vocal critic who is part of an organization called The Coalition for Los Gatos-Saratoga Safe and Sane Return to In-Person Schools, during the April 20 meeting. “They need to be in school five days a week because that’s what school is.”

Many students, parents and teachers also spoke against the plan at the board meeting. The forum was attended by many frustrated students and teachers who felt blindsided by the removal of asynchronous Wednesdays. Many teachers were especially upset that the board didn’t use Interest Based Bargaining, a system that has recently been a part of the negotiating process and the board had committed to.

This system allows either side to reject some parts of the other side’s proposal; however, the board went against these agreed upon bargaining principles and chose a schedule that had been “redlined” by the District Teachers Association, a union that represents 186 certificated staff members.

Chemistry teacher Kathy Nakamatsu, one of the teachers who spoke out against Phase 4A, was one of the teachers who spoke out at the meeting. 

“When I heard that there would be no asynchronous Wednesday, I felt demoralized and disrespected as a teacher. [Wednesdays are] not a day off for me,” Nakamatsu said. “I wanted to quit that night. I love teaching, I love my students, but this is like putting a steep hill that I have to climb at the end of a very long hike.”

Nakamatsu uses her Wednesdays as work days to hold tutorials, plan lessons, create exams and meet with her colleagues. 

A similar sentiment was shared by numerous teachers during the board meeting, including science teacher Jenny Garcia, who encouraged the school board to have more empathy for teachers.

“You're a governing body,” Garcia said. “It seems you should understand what is involved in teaching in the high schools you govern. But the new schedule does not provide evidence to support that you understand the challenges the teachers face.”

Juniors Grace Hsu, Alex Yang, Apurva Chakravarthy and Noora Fayad both created the student survey and organized a group to voice their findings at the online board meeting. Because of the cap time of 3 minutes for each speaker, each presenter nominated someone to succeed them, allowing them to move through their presentation seamlessly. 

“Wednesdays are a day for us to gasp for air as we are drowning underwater right now. You are essentially fighting for everything that is working against us, me, my peers, everyone,” Fayad told the board. “My question for you is why? Why are you working against your student, your child? Many parents come on here and talk about improving their child and student’s emotional well-being, and you just stripped us of everything that improved it. Why advocate against me, why advocate against your child and why advocate against everyone in this community?”

This system of picking the next speaker incited negative responses from a few succeeding speakers who were in favor of returning to in-person school on Wednesdays. While many commended the student group, others, including parent Nicole Ricci, accused the students of “hijacking the program.”

The meeting also brought awareness to concerns shared by multiple students and teachers on the validity of the survey the district had sent out to parents. Since the survey asked for parents’ opinions on returning “four or five days a week,” many thought the responses were not an accurate reflection of opinions on the current Phase 4A plan.

“I told my mom to say yes because I was excited to come back for four days, but not five,” sophomore Shaan Sridhar said. “Wednesdays are the day that I use to recover from the academic stress at Saratoga that is continuously ignored by this same board. Phase 4A will ruin the work I’ve put in to create a balanced school schedule.”

Another major concern students and teachers have with the removal of asynchronous Wednesdays is the increased screen time for students who remain solely in remote learning. Nakamatsu raised this issue at the board meeting as well, sharing her worry regarding the mental, physical and emotional toll the new schedule would have on remote students, especially since 90 out of her 150 students are currently in remote learning.

Grove told The Falcon that Phase 4A would favor on-campus students since a “tradeoff” would be necessary to increase in-person instruction. Regardless of which schedule the district pursued, in-person instruction would increase, resulting in more time spent in front of a computer for those who remained remote.

Ultimately, parents, teachers, administrators and students said they wanted to keep the students’ best interests at heart.

“Students are really who we’re all advocating for,” Health teacher Liz Alves said. “We’re all trying to work together to do what’s best for the students.”

 

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