After a year of distance learning, Sequoia returned to in-person school on April 5. The journey to that point has been difficult and full of division, due to concerns about mental health, safety, racial and economic inequality, and more. The district recently made the decision to have schools return fully in person, but it was not without conflict.
For the first time in the Sequoia Union High School District’s history, schools were opened for hybrid learning. Classrooms were at 25% capacity or less, instructional minutes were reduced, and students were separated. These were all measures taken to protect students, but many parents, students, and staff were asking whether those measures will be necessary once the next school year starts in August. Because of that, Sequoia’s community took to social media. Community organizations, such as Reopen SUHSD, started facebook and instagram accounts, allowing parents, staff and students to share differing opinions and perspectives, although sides only became more polarized.
Through these mediums, parents were able to express concerns about grades. According to “The Biggest Problem for America’s Schools” by Adam Harris, “nearly 30 percent of students in the Sequoia Union High School District, in Northern California, received at least one failing grade” (The Atlantic). Distance Learning was a big change for a lot of students; and while some were able to adjust, some weren’t. There are several different reasonings parents say as to why students are performing so much worse: mental health, lack of regular socialization, reduction of instructional minutes, and much more. One parent who submitted to the SUHSD board made a point that “many students, including my own child, are having trouble taking school seriously on Zoom. It doesn’t feel like real school.”
Parents and staff were also asking whether students truly want to go back to school. According to Principal Sean Priest, about 800 of the 2,000 kids at Sequoia opted to go back on April 5th. Hybrid learning is clearly significantly different from Sequoia’s pre-COVID-19 in-person learning, and some people are finding that the benefits are not worth the risk.
“There are a large number of students not returning to campus because the Zoom & Room model is simply not an improvement, and not worth any risk,” Another comment from the SUHSD board meeting states. “Continuing from home is better than that hybrid option.”
“Everyone’s sitting in the class on their computers anyways, I’d rather be in the comfort of my own room,” junior Jamie Leathers said.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, released an update to their operational strategy saying that in high schools with low to moderate transmission, students can remain 3 feet apart while wearing masks in the classroom (CDC). Many parents are encouraging the SUHSD to implement this in hybrid learning today as well as for the fall. A public comment submitted to the SUHSD board states that, “By observation, there is plenty of room for ALL opt-in students to eat lunch on campus at the same time. Future agreements with the Teachers’ Union should be more flexible regarding changing pandemic conditions and health directives, such as the 3’ spacing.”
According to San Mateo County Health, over 70 percent of San Mateo County has been vaccinated. The vaccine has also been very recently approved for children under the age of 16, and many parents believe that it is possible for all students to be vaccinated before returning in the fall. Unfortunately, things aren’t that simple. Another major concern is the racial and economic inequality in Sequoia’s community. While Sequoia has always prided itself on its diversity, many staff are concerned with how different demographics are disproportionately affected. “The demographics of who is in class and who is at home reflect inequities in our community. We must not turn our attention away from those who are learning from home,” another submission to the SUHSD board states. Nevertheless, SUHSD has been fighting a long battle against COVID-19; students and staff alike are ready to return back to normal life.