LIVERMORE, Calif. - Livermore families swarmed a school board meeting Tuesday evening, clamoring to get their children back into classrooms.
At issue: a hybrid learning plan that many parents say is being sabotaged by trustees.
"These kids need some normalcy, they need a real childhood," said parent Nobella Baba, who has two children in the district. "Other districts around us are doing hybrid learning and I don't know why our district feels it has to re-invent the wheel."
Livermore Unified has developed a plan to offer students from nine elementary schools classroom instruction as early as Jan. 19. The children would be split into morning and afternoon groups and attend four days a week.
Families that want to keep youngsters at home will have that option.
A recent survey sent to all households asked parents to commit to one option or the other.
"The hybrid schedule was created after looking at many other options," said Deputy Superintendent Chris Van Schaack. "This was determined to be the best for students although we know it will still create some challenges for families."
In a video presentation explaining the proposal, Van Schaack warned that classes will have to be re-structured, so teachers and students can be matched according to who will or will not return.
To make such an overhaul worth it, the district wants at least 67 percent of the students to come back, and there are conditions.
"Many students may end up with new teachers and new classmates," said Van Schaack, "and it is even possible that some students may end up in a different school entirely."
Many parents have a problem with those caveats.
"We believe they are purposely creating these obstacles, whether it's the teacher's union or the district, to dissuade parents from choosing the hybrid option," said Baba, whose daughters are in first and third grades.
Bella Baba, 8, came to the meeting in a T-shirt she decorated with the words, "education is essential."
"I've never seen her break down before, over things like losing internet connections and being kicked out of class," said her mother, "and this is emotionally and mentally damaging, and damaging them educationally."
Added parent Morgan Crinklaw, with two children in the district: "They have stacked the deck, trying to keep us in distance learning as long as possible and make no mistake there is not much learning in distance learning."
Currently, younger students have three and a half hours of virtual school each morning, and the rest is independent learning, assisted by parents.
"I am noticing that every single day it gets harder for them to do this," said Ashley Bolduc, mother of two. "My children don't want to try, they don't want to get up, they say online computer school is boring and it's hard for them to focus and to learn."
With social distance limits on attendance, families lined-up for limited seats at the board meeting.
Many others watched outdoors in an overflow viewing area.
They implored trustees to re-open schools as soon as possible, to keep their children from falling behind academically.
Advocates have also collected about 300 signatures on a petition demanding classroom instruction resume for those who want it.
It does not appear the survey is achieving the required 67 percent approval, set by an appointed task force.
"We didn't elect a task force to tell us when our kids can and cannot go back to school, we elected a school board and so we're here holding them accountable," said Crinklaw.
If hybrid learning is rejected by Livermore, the district says it will offer in-person support pods to help students struggling with distance learning.
Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU. Email Debora at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU