Jessica Cejnar / Friday, July 17, 2020 @ 6:11 p.m. / Education
Fluid COVID-19 Situation Creates First-Day-of-School Challenges for Del Norte Unified School District
Though Del Norte schools aren’t among those in California required to stay closed when the academic year begins, local education officials still don’t know whether or how they will reopen on Aug. 24.
The Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees on Tuesday developed a “base model,” a plan that incorporates in-person and distance learning, Superintendent Jeff Harris told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Friday. This plan will be in play as long as Del Norte County is in Stage 3 of California’s four-stage Resilience Roadmap. This stage allows for limited personal care and recreational venues as well as travel.
Now, district administrators will collaborate with work groups to determine how schools will operate under each of the four stages, Harris said. Those work groups will discuss what school safety, teaching, learning and communicating with families will look like, he said.
Another school board meeting will be held toward the end of the month or at the beginning of August to determine how Del Norte campuses will reopen on Aug. 24, Harris said. Until then, the district will continue to take input from parents and families, he said.
“Hopefully we will have all those phases put together and out to the community,” Harris said. “When the Board says we want you to go into Phase X, the community will know what Phase X will look like. People will already have it in their hands.”
The Board of Trustees’ “base model” is a “2-day on, 3-day off” plan for the district’s K-8 schools and Crescent Elk Middle School. Students at Smith River, Redwood and Mountain schools and Crescent Elk will divided into cohorts. Each cohort will be in the classroom with teachers for two days during the week and will learn remotely the other three days of the week.
Trustees have also asked the district to determine whether a morning-afternoon model can be adopted at the K-5 schools and at Margaret Keating Elementary School in Klamath. In this blended learning model, morning and afternoon cohorts of students will be at school five days a week, though transportation may be a challenge.
Regardless of whatever blended learning model the Board of Trustees ultimately decide on, full distance learning will be available to parents who request it, according to Harris.
Parents, like Jessica Valdez, still have questions. Valdez, whose children will go to Crescent Elk Middle School and Pine Grove Elementary School, said she’s worried about how the upcoming school year is going to affect her work schedule at Pelican Bay State Prison.
She’s worried that the interrupted 2019-20 school year created learning setbacks for her kids and is wondering how she’s going to be able to help them.
“A lot of that stuff is different from how I grew up,” Valdez said. “They do this Common Core math. I have no clue what I’m doing — I have to watch learning videos too.”
Valdez said she participated in the various parent surveys the district deployed. She said she may also have child care and transportation challenges.
“Some people have child care, some people don’t, some people do the after school program,” Valdez said. “Are there enough child care providers to provide child care for the children that need it? We’re still putting our kids in daycare, so we’re still going to be mixing children. What’s the difference between them going to a daycare and being in school?”
Child care is one issue the district will begin to tackle next week, Harris said, noting that no matter what model it adopts, it’s a major issue since it also relates to how students are grouped together.
The district will work with parents to try to have children who are in the same family unit be in the same cohort, Harris said. It will also focus on having child care units within the same cohort of students as much as it can, he said.
“The other wrinkle-complication is managing cohorts across school sites,” he said. “It is very possible to have a fifth-grade student with an eighth-grade sibling and a high school sibling. As we coordinate schedules, families are going to have to understand that the high school may not necessarily be aligned with whatever is at the K-8 (level).”
Principals and teachers will work with families to determine how students should be placed, Harris said.
The Del Norte County Office of Education’s Local Child Care Planning Council, which helps coordinate child care placement into available slots, will likely have a higher role than it has previously had as the 2020-21 school year starts, Harris said.
Addressing one of Valdez’s concerns regarding parents potentially having to help their student through a curriculum they may not be familiar with, Harris said district officials will discuss parental need. This includes helping them access an online program or address a behavioral issue with their student, he said.
“For parents doing distance learning, it will take a lot of reaching out to families to say ‘what do you need help with?’” Harris said. “And then prioritizing support based on the broadest needs for help down to the more specific needs for help.”
On Friday, Newsom said that schools in the 32 counties on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list will remain closed when the academic year starts due to a surge in cases. Del Norte County is not on that list, according to Public Health Officer Dr. Warren Rehwaldt.
For schools that can open, state officials require staff and students in grades 3-12 to wear masks, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday. Younger students will be encouraged to wear masks.
Whether a school closes depends on testing for COVID-19, the Times reported. If a teacher or student in a classroom tests positive, state health officials will suggest the class be sent home to self-quarantine. If 25 percent of a school district’s campuses had enough coronavirus cases to require a shut down, school districts will be asked to close all sites, according to the Times.
According to Harris, the Board of Trustees could adopt a plan that has a criteria in place for when to shutter schools. He noted that a transition plan is also necessary because “what does not work for parents is showing up to school on Friday and then without warning being told there’s no school on Monday.”
“We’ll be working with Public Health and we’ll be publishing what some of that guidance is as we start that planning process,” Harris said.
A discussion with Tom Kissinger, DNUSD’s assistant superintendent of educational services, and Ryan Bahten, director of information network services, on school reopening is available on the district’s website.