Jessica Cejnar / Friday, Oct. 2 @ 4:13 p.m. / COVID-19, Community, Education
'I Think Our School's More Than Ready'; About 1,500 Students Expected On DNUSD Campuses Starting Next Week
Luis Pelayo admitted his classroom didn’t look that different than last year.
Wearing his own Los Angeles Lakers face covering Friday, the Smith River School 4th-grade teacher prepared for the start of Del Norte Unified School District’s “blended learning model.” Pelayo said he expects to teach a group of 12 students on Monday and Wednesday and another group of 13 on Tuesday and Thursday.
Though he was able to keep much of his furniture, Pelayo furnished a bucket containing 800 Germisept Multi-Purpose Alcohol Wipes, pointed to the automatic hand sanitizer by the door and dropped school supplies into 25 individual Sterilite boxes.
The boxes will also include a masks, a necessary part of the school environment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pelayo had extras.
“We start at 8 a.m.,” Pelayo said. “Teachers have to have their classrooms open at 7:45.”
An estimated 1,500 youngsters are expected to return to the classroom starting Monday as DNUSD begins its Phase 3, or blended learning model, district spokesman Michael Hawkins told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Friday. Some families have elected to keep their students engaging with their teachers and peers online only throughout the school year, he said.
Del Norte High School students will continue in-person classrooms in the small cohorts that defined the second phase of DNUSD’s “continuum of learning,” Hawkins said. He noted that class sizes at the high school tend to be large.
“The high school is bringing students on campus from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. to receive enrichment, support, electives, different forms of academic support,” Hawkins said. “They’ll be letting parents know more information on that.”
There are currently five active COVID-19 cases in Del Norte County with one reported to the Public Health Branch on Thursday, according the county’s COVID-19 Information Hub. The new case was travel-related, the latest in a recent increase that has prompted public health officials to urge the community to review the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines and tips for travel during the pandemic.
Del Norte County is currently in the third, or moderate tier for California’s four-tiered Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Under this category, schools can reopen fully for in-person instruction, though the state leaves it to local officials to decide whether and when that will occur.
Del Norte Unified School District started the 2020-21 school year on Aug. 31 in Phase 1, or full distance learning mode. It brought back small groups of its special needs students, including homeless and foster youth as well as many of its special education students back into the classroom on Sept. 21.
According to Pelayo, at Smith River School only two students returned to campus when Phase 2 kicked in.
As most parents get ready to reintroduce their elementary and middle school-aged children to the classroom on Monday, district officials are rolling out flow charts, videos, checklists and other information to let them know what the school environment will look like during COVID. Each campus will also have individual safety plans with details including how students will enter and exit the grounds as well as scheduling, Hawkins said.
Much of the district’s protocols and guidance are outlined in its “Back to School Playbook,” which states DNUSD is operating the 2020-21 school year under the assumption that COVID-19 will continue to be a reality throughout the year. These assumptions include the possibility of having to retreat into a more restrictive education setting depending on disease activity and the need to maintain safety precautions.
“The information, protocols and processes found in this plan are based on information from the California Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the Regional Association of Northern California Health Officers and direct consultation with the Del Norte County Public Health Officer,” the playbook’s introduction states. “Please know that this document will be updates (sic) as guidance changes.”
One aspect of the play book addresses the use of masks, which “strongly encourages” their use in children from age 2 to second grade and requires them in third-grade through high school. There are guidelines on social distancing on the bus, while arriving and leaving campus, in the classroom and in other areas of school.
District officials are also addressing how to respond if a student travels with his or her family — a concern Crescent Elk Middle School teacher Amber Tiedeken-Cron raised at the Board of Trustees' most recent meeting.
“We’re just being more of an informational source where we are encouraging parents to keep their kids at home for two weeks if they have left a 120-mile radius around Crescent City,” Hawkins told the Outpost. “Based on CDPH guidelines and also California Department of Education guidelines, we don’t get the option to tell them they can’t come back. But what we are doing is offering independent study options… to allow them to temporarily go to 100 percent distant learning.”
Students who are exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19 such as cough or flu-like symptoms are also urged to stay home, Hawkins said.
At Smith River School, Pelayo said the principal, Nicole Cochran, conducted a walk-through for staff to show them how everything’s going to run. While he will teach his in-person cohort in the morning, Pelayo said he will meet with his distance-learning cohort in the afternoon. Students will also have breakfast at campus, but will take their lunch home, he said.
“I think our school’s more than ready,” he said. “I feel safe.”
While Pelayo prepared his classroom, Gerald Owen, the school’s head custodian, used a drill to fix a table leg. In addition to cleaning the restrooms two to three times a day, teachers will need to remove all items from their students’ desks so the custodians can spray them with disinfectant every evening, Owen said.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said.
One of the more challenging aspects Owen foresees is the logistics of keeping elementary school students socially distanced.
“I think teachers do a pretty good job of it,” he said.