PUSD surveys families on back-to-school options; replies needed by July 26
By Roni Java
Special to Feather Publishing
As COVID-19 virus cases surge across the U.S., a state and national debate is questioning if, when or how schools will reopen in August.
The Plumas Unified School District (PUSD) and its county office of education have taken those questions directly to area families, seeking input to resolve this urgent planning need in time for a first-day-of-school tentatively set to take place in about five weeks on Aug. 24.
Choosing among three options
On July 9, the district issued a survey to all households of PUSD’s 1,700-plus K-12 students. The survey is due back by July 26 and asks parents to weigh in on three options:
1) A blended learning model where students come to school Monday through Thursday only for half-day sessions held mornings or afternoons. This hybrid option would feature distance learning at home for the half-days not spent in class.
2) Plumas Digital Classrooms with 100 percent online learning. Teachers would assign work and students would check in via online resources.
3) Enrollment in PUSD’s Independent Study Option (ISO) program. In this model, students would not attend in-person classes. Instead, learners would be assigned a single teacher and develop an individualized plan.
Reassurance and commitment
In a statement to families, the Plumas County Office of Education and PUSD jointly affirmed their top priority is meeting student needs and they are committed to reopening schools safely.
The district informed parents that meeting social-distancing guidelines means all students will be engaged in some level of distance learning. The survey is intended to offer all families the opportunity to “make decisions about school that will work best for their home, work and school life.”
Each option offered has also been developed, according to the district, to be most supportive of learning needs for all students.
In option one, classrooms and high-touch areas of each school will be cleaned in between morning and afternoon sessions when students are on campus.
Accommodating student needs
In addition, PUSD announced that some student populations might require modifications to the three education options outlined, so a plan has been created to allow additional time on campus for those who need it.
For example, students with IEPs (Individual Education Plans) would be accommodated when they need extra time on campus. So would Alternative Education students, homeless and/or foster youth and English Language Learners.
Prioritizing subjects at school
In the elementary school blended learning model, teachers would prioritize math, reading and writing during in-person instruction Monday through Thursday. That portion of the school day is estimated to comprise 40 percent of instruction time in a classroom with limited numbers of students.
The other 60 percent of K-6 school days and weeks would be completed through distance learning at home and focus on independent practice, social studies, science, music and art.
Fridays would be designated as full distance learning days.
Junior- and senior-high school students would enroll in six classes and attend three periods per day, alternating twice each week. For example, students might attend periods 1-3 on Mondays and Wednesdays, periods 4-6 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then switch the following week.
As with the elementary school model, seventh- through 12th-grade school time not spent on campus, including Fridays, would be designated for distance learning activities.
P.E. requirements have been waived for the coming school year, so no physical education classes will be offered. However, regular physical activity, health and fitness will be encouraged.
Trustees, teachers and administrators await survey replies
When the PUSD school board trustees met July 8 to review the district’s options and plans for “learning reimagined,” they looked long and hard at the choices available to this rural school district. Questions arose about how best to keep students, teachers, school workers and families safe? What are other schools planning and how much might the various options cost?
Even preliminary estimates aren’t solid at this point due to shifting conditions at the state and county levels and public health requirements that are responding to the virus outbreak community by community.
The board will meet again in coming weeks as more information becomes available.
Parents concerned about contagion, learning loss
As they consider their choices, local parents are expressing views on all sides of the return-to-school issue. Just on the question of masks, some favor their use and others do not. And worries extend beyond that.
“I’ve seen the school marquee signs saying schools will come back in August,” said one mother. “But there’s just no way to keep the students safe. They’re going to try having all these kids doing social distancing and wearing masks, and it’s not going to work.”
The parent also said, “No one’s going to take their kids to school. I’m going to keep mine at home and home-school them all. Everybody I know is planning to do the same thing.”
In public briefings about California’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom has emphasized his commitment to families of the state’s six million K-12 students and employees of more than 1,000 school districts statewide.
He has also stated that keeping all students, teachers, site and support staff, bus drivers and maintenance personnel safe is foundational to reopening. “Two things are non-negotiable,” Newsom said in his July 13 televised update, “protecting our children’s health AND educating our children.”
California has allocated $5 billion to use to in addressing safe reopenings and lost learning. Indicating schools would likely begin the new year the same way they ended the past one, with distance learning, the governor also said decisions will be based upon data and where California is with the virus response over the next few weeks.
Newsom pledged support for hybrid education models and said the state would do justice to distance learning with equitable access.
“So much depends on people’s behaviors to mitigate the spread and transmission of the virus,” Gov. Newsom explained. “All of this will be determined in collaboration with partners across the state. We bent the curve before and we can do it again.”