District announces, revises plans for fall reopening



(Ethan Swope)

By Samantha Nichols

The Tamalpais Unified High School District will begin the 2020-21 school year on August 19 in a distance learning format, the district announced in an email on July 16. The announcement followed a press release by the Marin County Public Health department that recommended a delay of in-person learning for all Marin schools until at least September 8.

The department cited several factors that contributed to the decision to recommend distance learning, including an increase in COVID-19 cases in young adults and youth, a surge in hospitalizations, and scarcity in testing. Marin County has recently been placed on California’s “County Monitoring List” which tracks counties with high test positivity rates and increases in case numbers and hospitalizations. As of July 12, Marin County has a test positivity rate of 9.6 percent, according to Marin Health and Human Services data.

A press release by the office of California Governor Gavin Newsom on July 17 stated, “Schools located in counties that are on the Monitoring List must not physically open for in-person instruction until their county has come off the Monitoring List for 14 consecutive days.”

Tam Union plan

The district first released its plan to reopen schools in an email on July 3, which included three models of instruction depending upon public health standards.

Under current public health guidelines, students will participate in distance learning, the first part of a phased-in approach to reopening classrooms. “The program will be enhanced with synchronous classes with required instructional minutes, higher expectations, more structure, and more accountability than what was in place for the end of spring semester 2020,” district superintendent Tara Taupier wrote in the July 3 email. Marin County Public Health department is allowing districts to bring small groups of students on campus to “get to know their new classroom environment and conduct academic and emotional assessments.” It’s unclear whether Tam will choose to do this. Teachers are also allowed on campus to prepare for a potential return to classroom learning.

Grades will be assigned per BP 5121, which states, “It is the professional responsibility of the individual teacher to establish and maintain grading standards which will be appropriate for his/her subject.”

The district originally announced that the 2020-21 school year would commence under a “blended schedule” which combines in-person and distance learning and will be implemented if public health guidelines allow for in-person instruction. Under this hybrid learning model, each grade would be split into two groups, likely by last name, and attend campus five days per week in either the morning or afternoon. In-person instruction will be supplemented with required participation in distance learning.

In the event that public health restrictions ease, all students would come back to campus full-time, “but [we] do not anticipate being able to have large assemblies or gatherings with all students in one location, such as the gym, for some time to come,” the district stated in the July 3 email.

Parents also have the option to withdraw their students from in-person learning due to health risks, for which an alternative learning model is in place. 

Preventative measures

The email also outlined several preventative measures that will be implemented in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19 if conditions allow for in-person instruction. Students are expected to wear masks and maintain four to six feet between themselves and other students and six feet between students and staff members. Hand sanitizing stations will be placed around campuses and temperature checks will be conducted daily. Outside spaces will be utilized whenever possible and campus entrances, hallway flow, and bathroom usage will be coordinated to minimize contact between students.

The district has received $185,000 from the state and federal government to purchase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the 2020-21 school year. 

“While these funds are greatly needed and appreciated, it is not sufficient to cover the entire cost for these important safety measures and the District has already and will continue to use District reserve funds as well to purchase what is needed,” district Chief Financial Officer Corbett Elsen wrote in an email. So far, the district has purchased “gloves, masks and facial coverings, plexiglass barriers, face shields, disinfectant sprayers, contactless thermometers, outdoor tents, signage for help facilitate social distancing, wipes, fans to improve circulation where appropriate, and other necessary forms of PPE,” according to Elsen.

“Planning during these very uncertain times is challenging at best, and emotionally draining for all. Please know that we, in the District, care deeply about the health and well being of all students and staff and recognize the need to have robust learning plans in place for the start of the fall semester,” district superintendent Tara Taupier said in an email on July 16. 

More information regarding school reopenings will be communicated to families by the district on July 27.