FJUHSD students to be allowed to come to campus four days a week beginning April 19; some still prefer to stay home over COVID-19 health and safety concerns

With+the+Fullerton+Joint+Union+High+School+District+board+of+trustees%27+latest+directive%2C+Sunny+Hills+students+will+be+allowed+to+walk+through+the+front+entrance+for+live+classroom+instruction+four+days+a+week+starting+April+19.+++Those+learning+from+home+can+still+continue+to+do+so.

Andrew Ngo

With the Fullerton Joint Union High School District board of trustees’ latest directive, Sunny Hills students will be allowed to walk through the front entrance for live classroom instruction four days a week starting April 19. Those learning from home can still continue to do so.

Kate Yang

In a split vote, trustees for the Fullerton Joint Union High School District [FJUHSD] have approved allowing students to receive live, in-class instruction four days a week instead of only two beginning April 19 – a first since the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools last year and forced many to learn remotely from home. 

“Rip that Band-Aid [off] and get back in school,” said principal Allen Whitten, who was trying to persuade the 75.5 percent of Sunny Hills students learning from home to return to campus. “We are doing a lot of fun things here on site, and it is a great opportunity [for students] to get used to being at school physically because next year, everyone will be required to be here.”

FJUHSD board members decided to make the change after a 3-2 vote during the almost two-hour March 30 emergency board meeting. The dispute in their decision was over when to start the ramped up opportunities for live classroom instruction – as early as the week of April 5 or as late as the week of April 19, which leaves only six weeks left of the school year before online final exam week in which students will be tested from home like last semester.

Before taking the vote, trustees referenced newly released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines permitting three feet of distance between student desks instead of six and COVID-19 statistics showing Orange County moving into the orange tier, meaning a lower case rate than purple and moderate test positivity.

“Following the science as it applies to a specific school district is very important,” trustee Joanne Fawley said after the meeting. “Equally important is ensuring enough time for a smooth transition with each change has taken place this year in order to maximize a successful adjustment and allow time for communication and questions.”

Fawley, who voted with the majority, teaches social science at Cypress High School in the Anaheim Union High School District, which opted to finish the school year with all students learning remotely instead of reopening its campuses like the FJUHSD has done. 

We are doing a lot of fun things here on site, and it is a great opportunity [for students] to get used to being at school physically because next year, everyone will be required to be here.”

— Allen Whitten

The main reason Fawley and two of her colleagues opted for the April 19 date for the change to start was because they wanted to be sensitive to the students and the adjustment they would have to make the week before when the district would be on a block schedule so juniors can take their state Common Core exams.

“I felt that was too much change — both the schedule and four days a week — for students,” she said. “Thus, I felt it would be a smoother transition if it would be delayed by a week.”

Trustees further took into consideration the number of students to return to campus and the adequate time necessary for proper communication between district officials and parents as a means of deciding the finalized start state.

Board president Marilyn Buchi advocated for an earlier start for the first full week of April but was overruled by Fawley, Lauren Klatzker and first-year trustee Vicki Calhoun.

“I was disappointed,” Buchi said. “I am worried about the students not being able to be on campus [more]. … A lot of students are having a difficult time with remote learning, and I am worried that all the students are not getting the education they deserve and need.”

Since mid-February, trustees had moved toward a return to the hybrid learning model in which parents had a choice to send their child to campus two days a week (either Mondays and Thursdays for “Cohort A” or Tuesdays and Fridays for “Cohort B”) or keep them at home to learn remotely for “Cohort C.” On Wednesdays, all students learn remotely.

The approved change will combine those in Cohorts A and B into one group with those students coming to campus four days a week with Wednesday classes still being administered fully online for all.

Another new policy involves attendance; currently, students in Cohorts A and B could choose to stay home for instruction if they wanted to. Teachers on Aeries would have to report the absence as a “3,” which meant they were learning from home instead of in the classroom.

Beginning April 19, the district will dismiss this option, and if students in the combined Cohort A/B don’t show up to school and decide to join their teachers’ Zoom sessions, they will be marked absent, and a parent will need to clear it as in the past. 

Students could face the same consequences from their teachers for unexcused absences as in years past; however, school officials are still not assigning Saturday school for those who are truant on their attendance record.      

“Some students were staying home even though they were in Cohort A or B, and a lot of folks think it would be better if these students were to be held accountable for [choosing for] actually coming to school,” Whitten said. “I think it is a baby step toward next year where we are all going to be back in school all day.”

A lot of students are having a difficult time with remote learning, and I am worried that all the students are not getting the education they deserve and need.”

— Marilyn Buchi

To inform all FJUHSD stakeholders, superintendent Scott Scambray sent an email April 8 regarding the approved modification along with additional instructions requiring all families to log into the Aeries Parent Portal to indicate their instructional model choice of in-person or 100% distance learning before April 14.

“Going forward, switching between in-person and remote will not be permitted,” the email read. “If you do not log into Aeries and commit to one form of instruction … your student(s) will automatically be placed in the instructional model they are currently in.” 

Junior Marcos Medellin, who’s in Cohort B, said he supports the board’s decision and looks forward to resuming a campus life before the pandemic, which means the possibility of seeing more of his peers in the classroom. 

“I personally prefer the mental stimulation of actually going to school and having social interaction,” Medellin said. “Being in class is better for my mind than just staring at a computer screen, and I definitely learn a lot better because I have no other distractions.”

Many in Cohort C are still unconvinced to make the switch.

Junior Nathan Kim said he plans to remain in Cohort C the rest of the school year, weighing the importance of his health over the chance to return to the classroom for live instruction despite positive COVID-19 cases having gone down tremendously these past few months.

“I did not get the vaccine yet, so I want to wait for that before [returning to school in the fall],” Kim said.

For freshman Alison Chan, another Cohort C student, vaccination is also an issue for her before she will return to campus.

“I think it would still be safer to stay at home since most kinds our age still cannot get vaccinated yet,” Chan said. “The masks and social distancing plus other precautions are good, but I still do not think it is completely safe. … I just prefer starting fresh and joining in-person class next year.

“I think switching is a bit of a hassle, and I find it hard to adjust to new settings.”

Soon after the board’s decision, the Fullerton Secondary Teachers Organization secured a majority of “yes” votes from union instructors to agree to an update to their “Memorandum of Understanding” contract with the district.

Science teacher Kathy Bevill said she expected the board’s decision to be announced sooner or later but still holds concerns regarding COVID-19 health and safety. 

“I had mixed feelings because I wanted to get back to a bit of normalcy but did have concerns about not being fully vaccinated yet,” Bevill said. 

The masks and social distancing plus other precautions are good, but I still do not think it is completely safe. … I just prefer starting fresh and joining in-person class next year.”

— Alison Chan

Bevill also questioned the practicality of the district’s timing for enforcing this change instead of waiting for the next school year. 

“I realize the importance of students returning to school and having as much socialization as possible, but I just hope we are safe and everyone follows the safety protocols,” she said. 

Sophomore Alyssa Galvez, who’s in Cohort C, agreed with Bevill’s assessment.

“I was mostly surprised that they announced students could go back four days a week because I didn’t think they would do that this year with COVID-19 still being around,” Galvez said. “I am not sure yet whether I want to still stay home or not because it is safer, but it is also easier to concentrate in actual school.”

Whitten encourages undecided students like Galvez to take the leap and come back to campus even if it’s just for the last six weeks of the school year.

“It is going to be a really great atmosphere here the last few weeks,” Whitten said. “Next year everyone will be required to be here there will not be any distance learning.”