Education / Schools

HSD Trustees adopt distance learning model for start of school year

Board has final authority over switching to hybrid or full in-person instruction if San Benito County is removed from the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list.

On July 21, the Hollister School District Board of Trustees held a special meeting on Zoom in which they unanimously decided to implement a full distance learning model on the first day of school, Aug. 17. 

The resolution was made in response to the order by Gov. Gavin Newsom and new requirements to reopen released on July 17 by the California Department of Public Health.

In June, the board adopted a plan for starting the school year with a hybrid instruction model in which students could attend some of their classes in person.

Earlier that evening, the San Benito High School Board of Trustees also voted to start the school year with full distance learning.

Failing to place their mic on mute, one of the HSD trustees had screaming children in the background for the entire meeting. The screaming did not seem to bother Superintendent Diego Ochoa or the other trustees as they continued to speak over the background noise.

Trustee Jan Grist shared her concerns with starting the school year off with distance learning, then getting off the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list and going into a hybrid or full in-person learning model.

“Let’s say the county is off of the monitoring list, do we have a right as a district to continue the distance learning until maybe we get through the flu season, regular flu season?” Grist asked.

Ochoa answered, “We do. We retain that right.” He clarified later that “should public health circumstances improve,” the resolution language gives trustees final authority over the decision of whether or not to switch to a hybrid model or return to full in-person instruction.

Grist added, “I was a single parent and the idea to have to secure childcare one way and then have to find childcare a different way, will pose a real hardship on parents.”

Trustees discussed their views on implementing a defined timeline regardless of whether the county comes off of the state monitoring list.

Trustee Steve Kain stood with Grist in support of establishing a clear timeline for parents.

“I’m thinking in terms of maybe doing the distance learning the whole semester at least through December, that would get us through at least half of the flu season and we won’t have to be jerking parents back and forth.”   

Trustee Rob Bernosky said, “I’d like to be a bit of a contrarian here and say at the first available time that we legally can, that we have an option for at least those students and teachers that want the kids in the classroom and are willing to teach in the classroom, that we make it available to them.”

Citing a 50/50 split of parents in the community who want kids to be in the classroom and those who do not, Bernosky said he’d like to accommodate the 50% who do want to come back.

“I’d like us to remain open minded about it because the bottom line is there is a huge amount of the population that does want it,” he said.

In response, Kain and Grist, both former educators, stood firm that they did not want teachers to work in the classroom if they were not comfortable doing so, and that they would have to volunteer. 

Trustee Elizabeth Martinez said, “We’re not going to be jumping back and forth whatever decisions based on what the current conditions are. We are going to always do what’s best for our students and our staff.” 

Bernosky asked about the mechanics of distance learning. Ochoa didn’t reveal any details, but said, “Because we are at the table with our bargaining partners, we should not discuss it in open session right now.” He suggested it was a topic better addressed in closed session at the next board meeting on July 28.

The public is encouraged to participate in the public comment section of the meeting by sending remarks to boardmeeting@hesd.org or by calling (831) 630-6320.

 

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Patty Lopez Day

Patty Lopez Day,  graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2005 with a B.A. in English and Chicana/o Studies, and holds an A.A. in English from Evergreen and San Jose City College.  A writer and journalist she's covered  local news, politics,  education, immigration, sports and travel for print media having articles published in several Bay Area newspapers and magazines.  Born and raised in Santa Clara County she has called Hollister home since 2018.