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7/15/20 Update: SRCS Will Begin the School Year with Remote Learning
Posted 7/15/20

Dear San Rafael City Schools Community,

I am writing with an important update regarding COVID-19 and the reopening of San Rafael City Schools. I have heard from many of you with concerns about returning to school, and I can assure each of you that above all else, we are committed to student and staff safety. We continue to work collaboratively with our teacher and staff unions, our parents and our students to ensure that when we are able to bring students physically back to school, we will do so in as safe a manner as we can. I know we all share the goal of having our students back in school, but we want to get it right. We are proceeding cautiously as the coronavirus situation continues to change rapidly, particularly in our community.

As we have previously shared, we have three key Reentry Task Forces that have been focused on how we can bring students and educators back to school safely: Safety, Elementary Instruction and Secondary Instruction. These committees are composed of teachers, staff, parents, students and administrators and have been meeting regularly over the summer to develop recommendations for consideration by our Board of Education on July 28. We have also been meeting with our labor partners on a regular basis. We are working closely with our classified staff union to discuss the impacts of the classified layoff notices, and to ensure flexibility to modify job duties during these challenging times. With our elementary, middle and high school teachers and counselors unions we are working to agree on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) related to the safe return to school. I am proud of our strong relationship with each of our union partners-- having built trust and respect with each other allows us to have productive and honest dialogue to reach agreement in the best interest of our District community. We are hoping to have these MOUs approved by the end of next week.

After careful and thoughtful consultation with our labor partners, our Task Force committees, our parents, students, administrators, partner organizations and members of the Board of Education, we have made the difficult decision that San Rafael City Schools will begin the 2020-21 school year in a full remote learning model for all students. As many families have students in both districts, we anticipate that Miller Creek School District will be following an aligned approach.

Following full remote learning, we envision a thoughtful phased-in approach to implement a hybrid model when the time is right. Depending upon local data, safety readiness, testing availability and with guidance from Marin Health and Human Services, we will consider the recommended hybrid plans from the Task Forces and begin in-person instruction no sooner than September 8. We will continue to closely monitor the situation and collaborate with our stakeholders and we will provide our community with advanced notice before we make any substantial shift. We have reached this decision with the best interest of our students, teachers, staff and families in mind.

A key reason for this plan is that starting the year with remote learning will provide our staff with the opportunity to ensure that all safety recommendations, protocols and policies are in place and will be followed at each school. We are currently learning much about these procedures with our elementary summer school program at Bahia Vista Elementary, and we thank our teachers and staff for establishing the safety protocols this summer. This will also provide us with time to make sure testing for COVID-19 is in place for all staff as recommended by the Marin Health and Human Services (MHHS). Transportation is also an unsolved issue that we need more guidance on, and which greatly impacts our reopening plans. Lastly, we are concerned that the County of Marin is currently on the state’s “watch list.” This watch list is based on COVID-19 data, and takes into account significant changes such as a spike in confirmed cases, hospitalizations, outbreaks in congregate settings or an increase in community transmission in workplaces.

While we understand that not everyone will agree with our plan, we believe making this decision now will eliminate some of the uncertainty and stress for students, teachers and families and allow for more planning and preparation. It will also allow our Task Forces to begin recommending best practices for remote learning so that we can provide the necessary staff development to ensure remote learning is stronger and more effective than this past spring.  

An important point is that we hope to bring back students in small cohorts over the first few weeks of school to ensure they understand the safety protocols and procedures, have access to Chromebooks and the internet and meet with their teachers. Below is additional important information, which will be shared in more detail on July 28:  

  • Timeline: School will start on the planned first day of school, August 20, 2020, with remote learning. As mentioned previously depending on the local data and other considerations, we will then phase-in the return of students to our schools with one of the hybrid plans recommended by the Task Forces. All of our Task Force teams have been working tirelessly to find a balance between bringing educationally vulnerable students back for the support they need and the health and safety of our school communities. Our ultimate goal is to bring all students back to school once we are certain it is safe. The recommendations from our Taskforce committees will be presented to the Board of Education on Tuesday, July 28; a Town Hall meeting will be held on Thursday, July 30 for community input and questions, and then a final decision on which hybrid model we will use will be made on Monday, August 3
  • Safety Taskforce: This committee has been meeting weekly to address the multitude of questions we have received regarding safety, as well as the 30-point guidelines for schools shared by the Marin Health and Human Services and the Marin County Office of Education (MCOE). Rey Mayoral, a retired Marin principal, has been leading this group, which has divided into six focus areas: general cleaning and sanitation; general facilities; training/staff procedures; check-in/check-out recommendations; classroom procedures for elementary; and classroom procedures for secondary. This committee is made up of teachers, classified staff, administrators, parents and students, and is making great progress. In addition, we are conducting walkthroughs at each of our schools with administration, teachers, classified staff, and others to better plan for what needs to happen at each site to ensure that safety protocols are in place. 
  • Secondary Taskforce: This committee has been working on recommendations in two areas: how we can safely return students to school and what are the best practices for remote learning that we should have in place? We have also reached an understanding with our high school teacher union to implement a “4 X 4 schedule” this school year, in which students take up to three classes each semester that meet more often so that a course that normally takes a year is covered in a semester. This will allow both students and staff to concentrate on fewer courses at one time. Our high school administrators are busy working on what the master schedule will look like and we’ll share more information as soon as we can. Madrone will have its own schedule for their students, which will essentially be a four period day plus advisory. Our middle schools are also looking at a phased plan in a “3 x 3 schedule” where students take three classes each semester. In the first phase, small groups of students needing extra support with distance learning may be brought on to campus each morning. 
  • Elementary Taskforce: This committee, along with the secondary TaskForce, is also working on recommendations for how to bring students back to school safely as well as best practices for remote learning, which includes recommendations for student expectations, grading, completion of work and what it means to be a self-directed learner. They are also exploring best practices for teachers in terms of how to most effectively deliver remote instruction. Currently the committee is considering either A/B days or AM/PM days so students can be brought back in smaller cohorts.
  • AB77: Last month, the State legislature passed AB 77, which was meant to encourage schools to bring students back to school in person. It includes relaxed instructional minutes for each grade level as well as penalties for districts that do not have students in school for in-person learning unless directed by public health. We are still working with MCOE to determine the full interpretation of this law, which is not clear at the moment.
  • Full K-8 Remote Learning Option: Based on survey data, it is apparent that there is a percentage of families that are only interested in remote learning and do not want their children to come back to school under any circumstances. We are preparing for this and have asked Coleman Elementary Principal Mike Taylor to set up an all-remote learning academy for grades K-8. More details will be shared at the July 28 Board meeting; shortly after the Board makes the decision on August 3 as to what school will look like, parents will be asked to commit to the option of fully remote learning for the school year if they choose to do so. We are exploring options for grades 9-12, which is more challenging given the schedule. 
  • Surveys: Speaking of surveys, earlier this week we sent out another survey to our families so we can begin to estimate how many of them might choose the fully-remote option, as well as to get their input on a few other areas of how we might reopen our schools. Thanks to our labor unions, we already have a good idea of how teachers are feeling on a variety of topics, but we may put out one more survey in August.

I apologize for the length of this communication, but I know that reopening schools is at the top of the list for all of us; we are all concerned and anxious about how this might take place. Thank you to everyone who is helping us out with these plans, and please continue to let us know your thoughts and ideas as we move forward. In these challenging and uncertain times, it is more crucial than ever that we work together to use our best thinking and best ideas to put in place so that our students can get back to learning in the most effective way possible.




Jim Hogeboom