Novato parents push to open more schools for in-person learning

More than 100 people protested in Novato Tuesday evening, demanding an accelerated plan to get their children back into school.

"No more Zoom, no more Zoom," they chanted, outside school board headquarters before trustees held their meeting.

Families say they're at a tipping point with distance learning.

"We all really want our kids back full-time in-person and not just hybrid," said protest organizer Katie Stafford.

"A lot of us have one foot out the door, leaning toward private schools," added Stafford. "Novato has already lost more than 400 kids and they stand to lose hundreds more if they don't have a definitive plan."

During a two-hour discussion, which included public comment, the board expressed willingness to accelerate its re-entry timeline.

Of Novato's 7,000 students, about half are in hybrid learning, but it only includes 6th grade and younger.

Plans to bring 7th and 8th graders back part-time were scrapped when winter brought a surge in Covid spread and a new shelter-at-home order.

But those numbers are now receding, and with arrival of vaccines, many parents want the school board to be less cautious.   

"Schools across the country are figuring it out, they're being creative, they're being resourceful," urged one mom, commenting during the meeting.

"This is absurd, and if men had the responsibility to stay home with the kids this would not have dragged on so long," chided a dad, one of many speakers.

Several school board members spoke of their own frustrations, as parents, trying to help their children during distance-learning.

Encouraged by Superintendent Kris Cosca, the board voted to bring upper grades into hybrid-learning as quickly as possible, beginning with 7th and 8th graders this month.

Grades 9-12 could follow in March, as campuses and staff become ready.

Board members also voiced support for full classroom education next fall, and will negotiate with the teacher's union on achieving that.

The growing optimism is bolstered by Marin County's Public Health Officer.

"We've learned when done right, in-person school actually protects against virus transmission compared to the alternatives," said Dr. Matt Willis on Monday.

Willis reports only 10 school-based transmissions county-wide over many months, and no transmissions from student to adult.

He also expects Marin County to move out of the State's purple tier within days. 

"More schools will re-open when we achieve the red tier," said WIllis.

For many families, change is urgent because they see remote education hurting their children socially, emotionally, and academically.

"You hear the bang on the desk and you walk by his room," said Novato mom Ashley Timmel, describing the frustration felt by her son Bryce.

"Bryce is a happy kid and when tears come I know that there's a lot going on," added Timmel.

Most recently, the 6th grader couldn't get his teacher's attention when he needed to take a math test. 

"Yeah I don't really feel I have anyone teaching me," said Bryce.

"It's not being able to answer questions, and being interrupted by other people, and when I'm on campus I feel like I do a lot more work than I do in Zooms."

The Timmel household monitored the school board meeting, fingers crossed.

"You see your child crying over something that could have been fixed so easily if they had been at school and it breaks my heart, it makes me mad, and what am I doing about it ?" said Ashley.  

Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Debora at and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU