IUSD’s hybrid model reopening remains contentious within the community



As of 8pm September 18, 2513 people across the school district have added their names in support of a document titled “Statement on Reopening Schools” that expressed concerns about IUSD’s hybrid model, ranging from teachers, parents, alumni, students, and community members. 

The document is a collective effort by several teachers districtwide, that expressed some of their concerns about reopening schools, especially with how instruction and health will be affected. 

“Well, what happened was there was a group of teachers that were concerned about what was being put forth,” UHS English teacher James Garcia said. “25-30 people talking about various things that we didn’t weren’t feel comfortable with. And then from there, it was really like a group effort… So there wasn’t like one author or anything like that. They just, you know, there were a lot of people who put together ideas, and it was edited”.

The decision to move to reopen was made by district leadership, with the students’ and their families opinions in mind.

“The safety and wellbeing of our students and staff is IUSD’s top priority,” IUSD public information officer Annie Brown said. “For this reason, since last spring, IUSD staff have worked around the clock planning for the 2020-21 school year and the safe return of students to our campuses and classrooms in accordance with the California Department of Public Health and the Orange County Health Care Agency guidelines”.

On the contrary, there were concerns that the decision to reopen was rushed.

“Okay, so one of my biggest problems with what was happening was the district leadership was claiming that they knew, or that they know what parents and students and teachers want based on a survey that was outdated… It was conducted at the end of last school year, so in June,”  Garcia said. “I feel like the contexts have really changed and people have had time to develop different ideas and they were not interested in and still really aren’t”.

But with selecting and creating academic models for the school year, the district had employed an inclusive process. 

“We engaged in an inclusive process designed to meet the diverse needs of students, families and staff,” Brown said. “As part of this process, we convened a taskforce that was comprised of teachers, staff, principals, nurses, District leadership, parents, students and medical professionals, conducted multiple family and staff surveys and utilized feedback from the taskforce and surveys to develop different academic models to meet the needs of our students, families and staff”.

Another incentive for reopening of campus was California Senate Bill 98, which was passed June 29, 2020. SB 98 (Education Code § 43504) contains a statement that LEAs (local education agencies) “shall offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible.”

“In anticipation of being off the state’s monitoring list and meeting the requirements of SB 98, IUSD developed the Opening and Safety Planning Guide,” Brown said. “Aligned to the California Department of Public Health and the OC Health Care Agency guidelines for schools, the plan is designed to mitigate and reduce the risk of in-person instruction, so that we can safely welcome students back to our classrooms and campuses”.  

Created as a response to this decision, the perspectives and statements expressed in the document “Statement on Reopening Schools” posed a list of concerns about reopening campuses.

Two major points were expressed in this document, one that “the quality of hybrid in-person instruction at the secondary level will be inferior to the distance learning model,” and the other being that “we will be jeopardizing the safety of students, staff, and families by resuming in-person instruction”.

One of the concerns the document details is that temperature checks on campuses or symptom screenings will not be available on IUSD campuses, which goes against guidelines provided by the CDPH for schools that are reopening.

However, IUSD has invested in other preventive measures to ensure the safety of students and staff. One such investment was that all school HVAC systems have been equipped with new filters and each classroom has been provided a HEPA air purification system.

“IUSD has invested more than $21 million, which includes $17.5 million in safety plans, preparations at school and district sites, support for students and staff, and personal protective equipment, as detailed in our Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan,” Brown said. “IUSD has also earmarked $4m for free staff testing that includes baseline and ongoing testing as needed. Testing can also be done through the City of Irvine at the Great Park or through the County of Orange sites”.

Cited as another concern is the fact that “students will need to bring their own supplies (paper, pens, charged computers, textbooks, etc.) to maintain the highest levels of safety in the classroom. Classrooms may no longer be the agent of equity that they usually are.

The response to this document from the community has been more widespread beyond initial expectations. The document contains an attached Google Form for IUSD community members to sign and add their names in support.

“Yeah, it was, like, a few days, three to three days, just whatever [between ideation and completion of the document]. And then we, you know, we put it out there,” Garcia said. “And, you know, there, there wasn’t a lot of expectation to be honest…I thought very honestly, I thought it was just going to be like, for teachers, you know, maybe like 100 people”.

Stakeholders of all backgrounds have added their names in support, ranging from people directly affected by the decision such as students and their families to even from those who are not directly affected, such as alumni. 

“Looking through it, I agree with most if not all of these statements, so it kind of reaffirms my thoughts about our current structure,” junior Ethan Lai said. “I still need to think about the possibility of returning to school and consider the pros and cons more deeply, so I won’t be signing at the moment, but I might in the future.”

People who have signed have expressed their concerns and the google form has an option to  provide a short reason why they support the document. The list of signatures and responses are viewable, hyperlinked on the document.

“I personally just want to be on the record as being, you know, concerned about this plan. Because I don’t want to look like I’m complicit in this,” Garcia said. “I just, I don’t want to look like I’m promoting something that I see is potentially dangerous”.

On the other hand, there are people who have not signed, and express differing opinions than those concerns in the document. 

“I think the second point is totally valid and a legitimate concern. However, I strongly disagree with the first point,” junior Eric Xu said. “I think any amount of in-class interaction will create a  more collaborative, communicative, and just straight-up better learning environment than what we have right now”.

The final concluding statement of the document recommends that “we propose that the district commit to online distance learning for the entire first semester”. “This will allow us to reevaluate at the semester break and prepare for a return to in-person learning if all stakeholders agree it is appropriate at that time,” the document says. 

With school reopening this week in person, it remains to be seen how the situation will pan out.

“I’m honestly looking forward to going back to school since studying at home is definitely not my strong suit. My plan is just to mask up and social distance, and try and encourage others to do the same,” Xu said. “I think it will only be an uncomfortable time if other people are blatantly disregarding hygiene and common sense, so hopefully that doesn’t happen”.