By Debra Moore
The soonest that Plumas Unified School District will consider returning to the classroom is Oct. 23 — that was just one of the decisions made during the monthly meeting of the board of trustees Aug. 12. Trustees were also asked to pick a master schedule for its junior-senior high schools and rescind layoff notices for some classified employees.
Trustees were given four options to consider for return-to-classroom decisions: discuss weekly; discuss after nine weeks on Oct. 23; discuss just prior to winter break on Dec. 18; and discuss at the end of the semester on Jan. 22. The administration presented pros and cons for all options.
The trustees quickly agreed that Jan. 22 was too far in the future to make a decision, but ruled out the weekly option as being too disruptive. “Families are craving certainty,” Trustee Joleen Cline said, adding that it’s crippling for students and their families to not know what to expect.
Cline said she thinks that’s why 25 percent of families have selected the independent study option for their children, because it’s something that they can control. Roughly another 25 percent selected the distance-learning-only model for their students, while the remaining 50 percent opted for distance learning with an in-person hub option for socialization. The district is anticipating an enrollment of 1,562 students.
As for when to revisit a complete return to the classroom, the trustees opted for the Oct. 23 date. “We are going to see within nine weeks,” said Trustee Dwight Pierson, “we will have a better feel.”
The trustees agreed that by then they would know how other districts were faring, as well as what was happening with coronavirus within the county.
Again, the trustees were given four options in establishing master schedules for the district’s four local high schools: a traditional, site-based approach; a site-based approach with some district-wide opportunities; combining Greenville and Chester high schools for distance learning classes; and utilizing a complete district-wide calendar (a student from any school could take any available class taught online).
Two of the options weren’t appealing to trustees. District-wide offerings give the most flexibility and options to students, but they would also be the most difficult to transition from when in-class study resumed. The traditional option would make it easier to resume in-class learning, but it also limited the number of classes that could be offered, and teaching resources are limited due to the higher-than-expected number of students who opted for independent study.
The trustees discussed the benefits of the other options as giving the most flexibility to students and their school sites, and ultimately voted to approve two: Site-based with some courses identified for district wide learning; and offering Greenville/Chester students shared courses.
Kevin Bean, the district’s special education and pupil services director, presented an update on hubs and what he described as “small, consistent groups of students who gather for a limited amount of time.” He said optimally the groups would include seven to 10 students, but no more than 12. A student couldn’t belong to more than one hub because that would defeat the purpose of minimizing exposure.
The hubs could fall into three categories: educational, special education and life skills, or enrichment. School board president Leslie Edlund asked who would lead the hubs, and Bean said that it should be staff, but not necessarily teachers. Each school site would make decisions based on needs, space and safety.
Superintendent Terry Oestreich said that the state Department of Education will allow groups of student athletes to work out together but with strict guidelines such as only in small groups of 10 or less; no sharing of food, beverage or sports equipment; good hygiene protocols, face masks and enhanced sanitation.
The trustees vote to rescind layoffs for 39 classified staff including six library media specialists, a licensed vocational nurse, the outdoor ed coordinator, and student services coordinator positions, a program aide and more.
During the public comment section of the meeting, Quincy High School student Tristan McMichael again lobbied for music programs. “Once again I’m the squeaky wheel for music,” he told the board.
He commended the district for advertising for a music teacher position to be divided between all schools, but said it wasn’t enough and asked the district to consider separate teachers for Greenville and Quincy where there are established programs.