Editorial: For the health of students, teachers and staff, the school board should vote to maintain a hybrid schedule


Students head down to lunch on the first day of hybrid, Sept. 21. Photo by Francheska Pontillas.

We know what the Whitney campus can be. We remember it. As sophomores, juniors and seniors, we miss the bustling energy the campus once had, seeing our friends during lunch, and being able to interact with all of our peers during class. As much as we yearn for a return to normal, the ongoing pandemic does not allow for this to happen safely. 

Because of the rising cases of COVID-19 across the state — and within the school district itself — we urge the RUSD Board of Trustees to make the right decision and vote no on sending students back to school five days a week.

Even in the current hybrid system students are at great risk for coming in contact with the coronavirus. Desks are barely six feet apart in classrooms, and it is hard enough to maintain social distancing with students during passing periods and at lunch, and this is with a campus at half capacity. On top of that, there seems to be major oversight in procedures set in place to protect students, with masks and social distancing not being required during lunch, and the siblings of students who have possibly been exposed to COVID-19 still being required to come to campus. The current hybrid system in place isn’t fully effective in keeping everyone safe. Returning to a five-day week would make it almost impossible to protect students from COVID-19.

The standard email Whitney High School sends students when a student or staff member tests positive states, “The health and safety of our students and staff are our top priority. This letter is to inform you that a student or staff member at Whitney High School has tested positive for COVID-19.

Emails like the one above were few and far between in our inboxes back in September at the start of the hybrid schedule. But the rate at which we receive these emails has increased since Thanksgiving. It will only be a matter of time when the “student or staff member” will be one of our friends, teachers or counselors — only a matter of time before it’s one of us. And for some students, this has already happened.

In the first eight weeks of the hybrid system, from Sept. 21 to Nov. 13, 41 positive cases were confirmed among students and staff district-wide. In only the past three weeks, from Nov. 16 to Dec. 4, 61 RUSD cases have been confirmed, 38 of those cases from last week alone, Nov. 30 to Dec. 4. Just four days before the scheduled vote on the reopening campus fully, WHS confirmed four new cases, making seven positives for the week at just our campus alone. Students going back five days a week would clearly make things worse.

While the number of positive cases may seem small, we ask you to keep in mind that those are not just numbers. They are each a child who is fighting or has fought off deadly disease. They are teachers who have risked their lives, and the lives of their families, to provide for students. For the Board of Trustees to deliberately put the lives of children and teachers at even more risk would be a slap in the face to the community they serve.

In California’s tier system, to identify the rate of spread of COVID-19 in each county, Placer County is in the worst tier, with heavy restrictions on public activities designed to stop the spread of COVID-19. On top of that, the Greater Sacramento Region currently has a stay-at-home order that went into effect Dec. 10. If top-level decisions from the governor, influenced by a team of experts, including scientists, legal advisers and public health officials, point to extra precaution needed to slow the spread of COVID-19, why is going back to school five days a week even being considered? Why should the fate of the Rocklin community be at the hands of anything less than what experts are saying? 

Even if the Board of Trustees is willing to risk the health of teachers and students for a “better” learning environment, it would still be illogical to send students back to campus five days a week because of the staffing problems and poor schedule it will create. According to a survey administered by RUSD, a projected 862 students are expected to transfer to RVC if the district decides to move to a five day week. These new RVC students not being immediately accommodated, along with the moving of teachers from physical campuses to RVC, would no doubt cause massive disruptions in learning and create an even larger gap in students’ education.

Changes in how we learn have taken its toll on students, with the switch to a 4×4 schedule, getting accustomed to online learning, then getting used to being back on campus with masks and social distancing. The start of the new semester will be hard enough for students, as we adjust to a new set of four classes, learning names, matching faces and remembering room numbers — all much harder while masked. Forcing students to navigate this change, while 100% of students are on campus for the first time in 10 months, in the middle of an ongoing pandemic, seems like a recipe for disaster.

While a hybrid model is not perfect, teachers have found ways to modify their instruction and create meaningful learning opportunities. We are still able to effectively learn in a hybrid system, and teachers are finally hitting a stride. Switching to another system for the third time this year will create major disruption and will inevitably take another month for everyone to adjust. If the hybrid system is kept — despite its notable areas for improvement — it will enable students to maintain some level of routine at this point in the school year. And some sort of routine is necessary as we live through these crazy times.

We desperately want things to go back to normal, but the long-term health and safety of students are more important. It is the district’s job to create a safe environment for us to learn but sending students back to school five days a week would put students in even more danger than they are currently. Instead of forcing families to make a tough call between the health of their child, or their child’s education, the trustees should maintain a hybrid model and vote no on sending us back to school five days a week.

Editorial Board vote: 8-0