New cases of COVID-19 are the lowest they have been since early summer.

Photo by Marty Cheek
Lupe Barajas, a teacher at a charter school in Hollister, receives a shot from Safeway pharmaceutical technician Magdalena Temes at Sobrato High School March 10.

By Steve Cox

Steve Cox

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our way of life and affected every aspect of society between how we see friends and family, how we work, how businesses can function, and how our children learn. As our local community moves through the tiers and returns to a more normal way of life, our schools are lagging behind in fulfilling the critical need for getting kids back in school for in person learning.

Just over a year ago the Morgan Hill Unified School District abruptly closed schools for in-person education and shifted to a virtual distance learning curriculum as a result of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay at home order. It was a major change the schools were not prepared for, and they did the best they could for the remaining one-third of the school year.

When students returned in the fall, there was a wide range of instruction time between schools. As a parent of two young children at Jackson Academy of Math & Music, I was shocked to see how little instruction my kids were getting: about 1.5 hours per day with their teachers. The virtual instruction standards set by the district were the bare minimum, however, I think it should be highlighted that some schools and teachers took it upon themselves to go above and beyond. The disparity and inequity in education based on one’s address could have been avoided by MHUSD setting a higher bar for virtual instruction in all schools, rather than setting minimum standards for schools to settle at.

As the year progressed, private schools in Morgan Hill and California returned to in-person learning, and public schools in many states did the same. During this return, transmission and cases of COVID-19 were monitored by health officials. All data and studies have come to the same conclusion: there is very low risk of COVID transmission when basic safety precautions such as masks and distancing are implemented, and COVID transmission between students at school is significantly lower than transmission in the surrounding community. It is safe for students to be in schools now and has been for some time.

In January the district presented and the school board approved a plan to return to in-person learning on March 22. Over the past weeks schools communicated their schedule and plan for in-person learning. Once again, Morgan Hill schools are lowering the bar and providing bare minimum in-person learning which is so needed and desired by our children. Most schools are providing just 10 to 12 hours per week of in-person learning, while a small number of schools including Jackson are only providing 5 to 6 hours of in-person instruction per week.

Parents continue to be told that this is the best the school district and the schools can do. However, countless schools around the state, within Santa Clara County, and here in Morgan Hill have found a way to get students back in the classroom with significantly more hours. It’s painful as a parent to see so many other schools and districts figure out a way to get kids back in classrooms, while our local schools are offering so much less.

New cases of COVID-19 are the lowest they have been since early summer. Santa Clara County is experiencing decreasing transmission and spread of COVID and have already administered vaccine doses to one-third of the eligible population. All aspects of society are racing back to normal. However, our children are being left behind.

School and district administrators need to make returning to full-time in-person learning the No. 1 priority rather than developing standards that facilitate our schools providing the bare minimum requirements. We need strong leadership and a “can-do” attitude from our school administrators to make changes, develop plans, and inspire those around them to get kids back in school. A final message to parents: I encourage you all to attend school board meetings, email school board trustees, and email your principals to ask that their No. 1 priority is a return to full-time in-person learning rather than settling for the minimum.

Steve Cox is a Morgan Hill resident with children at Jackson. He wrote this opinion column for Morgan Hill Life.


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