Jessica Cejnar / Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020 @ 12:30 p.m.

Blended Learning For K8 Students Resumes Monday, High School Students Should Stay Tuned For Changes; Newsom Announces Plan, $2 Billion To Reopen Schools

Local students will pick up from where they left off when school resumes Monday, though district officials are urging those who left town or hosted out-of-town loved ones for the holidays to quarantine for two weeks.

Del Norte Unified School District’s K8 campuses will follow the same protocols they adhered to before winter break, Superintendent Jeff Harris told the Wild Rivers Outpost. This includes daily screening students and staff for COVID-19 symptoms and sending them home if they have symptoms, he said.

“We’ll continue to work with public health, working through close-contact determinations, quarantine determinations, those kinds of things,” Harris said.

There has been no person-to-person spread of the novel coronavirus at DNUSD schools, according to Harris, who said he had received that information from the Del Norte County Public Health Branch. However, students and staff have picked up COVID-19 due to community spread or from exposure outside the school environment, he said.

Families of students who continued in distance learning or whose children returned to campus in the district’s blended learning model on Oct. 5 will continue in those phases on Monday. For those who traveled or hosted loved ones from out of the area, DNUSD is urging them to request independent study for up to two weeks after school starts again.

“Your child will still be able to participate with their teacher and class,” Harris told the community Dec. 28.  “This will give you time for your family to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, to be tested prior to your child returning to school or if you get a phone call from a family member that says, ‘Hey, I just tested positive,’ and give you some time to respond.”

Harris’s message to the community came two days before California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a new plan for safely schools to resume in-person instruction.

On Wednesday, Newsom announced that his strategy will focus on bringing back children in transitional kindergarten through second-grade and other vulnerable students back into the classroom first. Other grade levels will be phased-in throughout the spring, according to a Wednesday news release:

“This phased-in return recognizes that younger children are at lower risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19. At the same time, distance learning will remain an option for parents and students who choose it and for those whose health status does not allow them to return to school in the near term.”

Newsom’s plan also includes a budget proposal of $2 billion for safety measures including testing, ventilation and personal protective equipment for schools that have resumed in-person instruction or are phasing in-person instruction by next spring.

Newsom’s new plan includes prioritizing school staff for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine as well as a Safe Schools For All Team, comprised of staff from the California Department of Public Health, Cal/OSHA and educational agencies to provide support for schools.

A state dashboard will also allow Californians to see their school’s reopening status, the level of available funding and data on school outbreaks.

In Del Norte County, the district’s blended learning model for K8 students has about half a teacher’s pupils coming into the classroom on Monday and Thursday and the other half on campus Tuesday and Thursday. On Friday, students engage with their classwork and teachers remotely.

Some parents have elected to have their students continue with distance learning.

At Del Norte High School, a small number of students were visiting campus for extra interventions, including tutoring through the district’s American Indian programs as well as for foster and homeless youth, Harris said.

However, after Principal Alison Eckart reported that the number of students receiving Ds and Fs during the first grading period of the year increased by about 60 percent over the previous year, trustees agreed to bring more youth back to campus in the second semester.

Unlike the district’s K8 schools, DNHS is on a semester system. Students receive progress reports after 12 weeks of school and will get their first semester grades after Jan. 22, Harris said.

“What was being told to us by parents and students was that, while, yes, they had access to 45 minutes to an hour of online instruction, it didn’t work for their child,” Harris said. “They weren’t able to ask questions, weren’t able to get clarification, weren’t able to practice with a certificated teacher in the room to get them support. A lot of the supports and structures to allow kids to be successful were gone because they weren’t face to face. That was a huge component.”

On Dec. 10, DNUSD trustees adopted a model that allows high school students to see their 1st-, 2nd- and 3rd-period instructors in-person twice a week for nine weeks starting in the second semester. During the subsequent nine-week period, students would be in their 4th-, 5th- and 6th-person classes twice a week.

This would reduce in-person student contacts with instructors by half even though they would see every teacher twice a week, Eckart told trustees. It would allow for more meaningful contact, deeper learning and more enrichment, she said.

Classes would be held in the morning. In the afternoon, students could take advantage of interventions, enrichment, career technical education classes, performing arts and special education supports, Eckart said. There would be no lunch period.

The lack of social interaction has been hard on students as well, Harris said.

“A lot of kids are vocalizing anxiety, depression, even some suicidal ideation,” he said. “You’ve got parents that are calling in and expressing the same about their child, asking for psychological, even medical support.”

Parents of DNHS students will receive more information about upcoming changes in January, Harris said.

Harris added the district will do a “deep dive” into grade distributions both at the high school and K-8 level in the new calendar year. He noted that for elementary school kids, grades weren’t turned in until the middle of November.

“We are continuing to work closely with the public health officer and we are monitoring any releases from the California Department of Public Health, from the governor’s office, adn we will most definitely comply with any directive we’re given,” he said. “As it stands now, we are good to continue to move forward as we have been starting on Jan. 4. And that’s been confirmed by Public Health.”


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