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How Do We Reopen California Schools?

By Tammye McDuff

The coronavirus is upsetting life as we know it for everyone and challenging learning institutions from pre-school to higher education.

Across California, school districts, county offices of education and the state are planning how to reopen schools in the fall to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students and staff. A guide book for the safe reopening of California public schools was issued last month which a 62 page instructional model for planning, learning, social and emotional direction.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond put out a statement saying, “The effects felt by COVID-19 have been widespread and created impacts unlike anything that we’ve ever seen. I want to commend the schools of California for your resilience and the quick manner in which you moved into distance learning.”

The California Department of Education has gathered input from focus group conversations with teachers, classified staff, child care providers, superintendents, and public health officials. Contributions were heard during virtual support circles with educators, parents, and students. Additional insight came from consultation with state superintendents, researchers, and experts from across the Nation. “Guidance is only as good as its implementation,” stated Thurmond, “This is the beginning of a long discussion, rather than the end. We know that for many of us, this is the toughest challenge that we’ll ever face, perhaps in our lifetime. But when it comes to ensuring that our students continue receiving a high-quality education, and doing so safely, we must rise to meet the challenge.”

Some of the safety protocols that schools in other countries are putting into place include taking body temperatures at home and reporting to teachers every morning; staggering rush hour schedules for different grade levels; wearing face coverings; installing hand sanitizing stations in classrooms and across campus; disinfecting campus sites daily and having school doctors and/or nurses on site.

Superintendent for Downey Unified School District, Dr. John Garcia agreed that these are challenging times admitting it was tough to fail the spring 2020 semester, “The District issued over 8,000 devices to help students stay connected. What I think we are going to wind up with are very strange hybrids of programs. Some parents will choose to keep online distance education programs; we will be running full day education programs for special education students; but I don’t see a five-day per week return to school for all students as a viable option.”

The first choice for DUSD is a Hybrid model, students return to school in-person for two days a week and then participate in Distance Learning for the remainder of the week. The second choice, for those families who have health related concerns and/or other concerns related to an in-person return to school for their children, will be a Full Time Distance Learning model.  This model will include a robust curriculum that parallels learning objectives the Hybrid model would provide to students.

Dr. Mary Sieu, Superintendent for the ABC Unified School District admits they are focused on how to reopen in the fall, “We surveyed our families and employees to get a sense of the conditions that they felt comfortable working under. The communities that we serve need to go back to work, which means food programs and extended care. There are a couple of things that we are considering. The School District Task Force for Safely Reopening Schools has developed a proposed plan to reopen schools when students return on August 24th. The two options are: Hybrid: The hybrid model allows students to attend school in-person two days per week and complete assignments at home for the remaining three days or Virtual Academy: The ABC Online Academy is a virtual school where students engage in learning at home through a structured school day.”

Children will be able to play out door at recess and lunch but with a staggered schedule limited to the students that are in the same classroom; there is a temporary stop to parent volunteers; students will be required to wear a face covering with certain exceptions; temperatures will be checked daily and classrooms will be cleaned frequently and deep cleaned twice a week.

“Things are going to have be handled very differently. It is interesting; so much depends on the guidance of our public health department,” added Sieu.

In a turn of events the LA Times obtained a recording of a phone call by County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. It was an ‘off the record’ phone conversation that was not intended for the media or the public. Ferrer told officials from both public and private schools, “Every single school district at this point needs to have plans in place to continue distance learning for 100% of the time. We would be irresponsible if we didn’t say to you that you must have the back-up plan ready.”

There are 80 school districts in L.A. County alone serving 1.5 million children, Ferrer also said she remained hopeful that campuses could reopen as anticipated.

 

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One Response to How Do We Reopen California Schools?

  1. Empty Chairs Reply

    July 9, 2020 at 3:32 pm

    Simple: Keep them closed until we have a vaccine in place.

    Kids will be kids, they hand trespass everywhere and carry germs.

    State could spend trillion dollars in trying to make campuses safe heavens and will not aid education, just create half hazard compounds.

    Keep students and teacher at home, until pandemic resides.

    More alarming, how many female students under 16 YO in the state are pregnant? Fear lovers and incest are being swept aside in order to get students back to normalcy.

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