On Tuesday, March 30, the Carpinteria Unified School District Board of Trustees voted to return all students in-person five days per week for elementary schools, and four days per week for Carpinteria High School and Carpinteria Middle School beginning Monday, April 5.

Attendees expressed varying opinions about the amended reopening plan, but the aspect of the plan that was discussed in most detail was the elimination of the Zoom learning option at the elementary and middle school levels.

As part of the plan, Cohort C, the subgroup of students that had previously been studying remotely over Zoom, will be discontinued at the elementary and middle school levels.

Instead, elementary and middle school students must choose between returning to school in person fulltime, or enrolling in a remote, independent study program called Edmentum, which is provided by the district. Students on Edmentum learn fully independently except for meetings once a week with a district administrator who has been designated as the Edmentum coordinator for their school, according to Superintendent Diana Rigby.

At Carpinteria High School, Cohort C or Zoom learning will remain available for all students and courses, a decision that was made largely because many students are enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) and Dual Enrollment courses at CHS that are not supported by Edmentum. Additionally, special education students districtwide will be able to amend and individualize their learning plans to best suit their needs.

Holly Minear, a parent of a student at Summerland Elementary, spoke in support of the move to fully in-person instruction. “While our son’s teacher has done her best to teach students through a camera and a keyboard, this is not the format we know best suits our son’s learning and social-emotional needs,” she said.

Ryane Alexander, a parent of a student at Carpinteria Middle School, shared a different view. “My youngest daughter is at the middle school and she’s doing great on Zoom,” Alexander said. “She’s flourishing, she has all As, she is an amazing student, and I feel like giving us the choice for Zoom and then taking it away doesn’t feel right for our family; there’s still a pandemic going on.”

“I just feel like we should have the choice,” Alexander continued. “It’s the end of the school year, there’s a couple months left. I think it’s great if kids want to go back, but some kids don’t, and some kids also have anxiety of going back. So, pushing parents to put their kids in class or go on independent study isn’t really a great choice for us … It’s not really a choice. She’s doing so well in school right now, so to put her in independent study would be kind of a shame.”

Sarah Rochlitzer, a teacher at Carpinteria High School, echoed Alexander’s concerns. “If the whole purpose of this is to make the most effective teaching and learning for students, then forcing kids to choose between a sub-par online system and returning with anxiety … It’s just not an option, it feels forced,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like a choice, it feels like you’re just being forced.”

Jay Hotchner, president of CAUSE, the union representing teachers in CUSD schools, expressed the need for more community input on the topic. “Simply looking at the attendance at this meeting does much to clarify how hard CUSD worked to minimize input and participation and collaboration,” he said. “Imagine a decision of this importance being made with so little community input.”

Jaime Diamond, the sole board member who would go on to vote against the amended reopening plan, expressed concern that students’ learning would get disrupted by switching between the various learning options. “I’m concerned (that) students who are essentially forced into the independent study (will) get lost in their academics at this point,” she said.

Rigby acknowledged the challenge and said that the district is “weighing the benefits of (doing) in-person instruction and the challenge for teachers to do simultaneous teaching with what we call ‘roomies’ and ‘zoomies.’ It’s extremely difficult to teach students who are in person and students who are on Zoom without having everybody on Zoom.”

Board members Aaron Smith, Sally Green, Jayme Bray and Andy Sheaffer voted in support of the plan. Citing the strain that virtual learning has placed on the mental health of many students throughout the pandemic, Sheaffer said that being back in school is the best thing for students.

When asked how the district reached its conclusion that simultaneous learning with some students on Zoom was not working effectively and should be discontinued, Rigby stated that “students perform much better with live teachers and peers in their classrooms” and cited an overall increase in Ds and Fs at Carpinteria Middle School in Fall 2020. When asked about the success of such learning at Carpinteria High School, Rigby cited the similar drop in grades.

Starting Monday, April 5, all CUSD students began the remainder of their semester in one of the designated learning options outlined in the amended reopening plan. Rigby said the district will not know the exact total number of students who have chosen to enroll in Independent Study until the end of this week.

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