Ladd Lane Elementary School. Photo by Patty Lopez Day.
Ladd Lane Elementary School. Photo by Patty Lopez Day.

The Hollister School District is weighing the possibility of allowing small cohorts of students on district campuses this spring. Discussion of small group on-campus support for children with acute needs occurred at the Dec. 15 Board of Trustees meeting.

Superintendent Diego Ochoa said, “It’s an update on the California Department of Health and the California Department of Education creating a pathway for school districts to provide small groups and cohorts of students on campus for targeted support and intervention. The guidance documents have set up a process for school districts to open campuses if and when they determine a group of students has needs that can’t be met solely online. These groups can include students with disabilities, English learners or other at-risk students for these programs.”

Current COVID-19 numbers for San Benito County don’t indicate the possibility of opening these schools for small cohorts anytime soon, but Ochoa wanted the board to consider this in preparation for the time when coronavirus cases start subsiding, potentially as early as February or March.

“Our principals have indicated a desire to want to do small groups on campus so they can get protocols in place so they can work through the process of bringing kids in, because the idea of going from no students who show up to 450 kids in one day is something they are very worried about,” he said.

A small cohort process was implemented at Ladd Lane Elementary School, but it closed after a month of in-person instruction following the rise in COVID-19 cases in San Benito County. Ochoa said there were no reported cases of the virus at Ladd Lane.

Ochoa and trustees agreed that employees would also have to indicate they were willing to report to their jobs.

Asked about who would work and who would attend these small cohort groups, Ochoa indicated first priority would be given to people willing to attend, and similarly staff would have to indicate they were willing to work. He said only half of those students cleared to attend Ladd Lane in-person—45—actually did, while the rest chose to stick with distance learning.

The next criteria for small cohorts would be students who have not been attending school or those in upper grades who are getting poor to failing grades in some or all of their classes. The final criterion would then be defined by strong recommendations coming from various district staff for students with serious needs.

“You mentioned the social emotional needs of some of our students. I just want to make sure, if we were to do this the priority would be, the students with disabilities, English learners and other at-risk students,” said trustee Carla Torres Deluna.

Ochoa said, “There has been an increase of parents reaching out to the district indicating that their students have a social-emotional need solely. The need they are seeing in their child is the impact of seven months of not being around other students. The impact of that social-emotional isolation has become unbearable, has become something that overwhelms their academic experience. So students have become severely withdrawn from their academics.”

HSD has arrived at this determination, according to Ochoa, mostly because of “feedback from parents that have really reached out to us and indicated that they are in crisis, that their children need significant support.”

Ochoa referenced Assembly Bill 10, which says that if a COVID health order is lifted, students should be back on campus with accommodations made for those most at risk.

The next HSD board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 26.

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