After unveiling its plan to return secondary students to campus earlier this week, Turlock Unified School District on Thursday held a virtual forum in order to answer questions from parents, students and other community members.
The district’s 7-12 reopening plan, which can be viewed on the TUSD website, was met with backlash from some parents who believe the schedule does not provide enough in-person instruction for students. A large group showed up before Tuesday’s Board of Trustees meeting to protest the plan, which Superintendent Dana Salles Trevethan and Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Heidi Lawler both addressed during Thursday’s forum.
TUSD is abiding by Stanislaus County Public Health guidelines to implement the plan, Trevethan said, as the local government entity is responsible for approving the document.
“There’s nothing that any one of us on this screen wants more than to see young bodies on our campuses again to bring back that feeling of living, so please know that we’re doing everything we possibly can,” she said.
Lawler said that although two half days on campus per week may not seem like a lot, it will still be beneficial for students. After meeting with the district’s care program clinicians, who work with students on social, emotional and mental health needs, it was reported that a number of students currently spending minimal time on campus through cohorts have made progress on their mental wellbeing.
“Just being there two days per week is making a difference,” Lawler said.
Parents and guardians of TUSD students have until Feb. 26 to submit a commitment survey, where they will opt for their child to either continue distance learning or return to campus as part of the in-person reopening. Students already partaking in the hybrid learning model may continue to do so if they choose. The commitment survey can be found at https://www.turlock.k12.ca.us/reopeningplan and is only asking parents to commit to a learning model for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.
“Our hope is to return in the fall with a more traditional style of learning and schedules, and we’ll continue to monitor the situation as we move in that direction,” Lawler said.
The forum provided another presentation of the secondary reopening plan and can be viewed in full on the TUSD YouTube channel, but the Journal has included questions from the forum and the district’s answers in a Q&A format below.
Q: Will the choice of either in-person learning or distance learning impact participation in athletics?
A: According to the district, students who are currently distance learning and continue to do so will still have the opportunity to participate in athletics, as will students who partake in face-to-face instruction.
Q: What will physical education look like at secondary schools?
A: Lawler said that at this point, she anticipates P.E. class will look “very different” than what students are used to. Pitman High School principal Angela Freeman was on hand during the forum to lend some insight, noting that students will not be dressing out for P.E. and will be encouraged to bring a pair of athletic shoes to school so that they can participate in activities. Locker rooms will be closed and students’ belongings will remain with them as they participate in P.E. class.
Q: What measures will TUSD be taking to clean and disinfect secondary campuses when students return?
A: Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Barney Gordon shared that newly-hired personnel will be on hand to help sanitize classrooms, but that it will take a “team effort” from teachers and students in between periods to help keep the spaces clean. TUSD is purchasing more equipment to disinfect common areas, like spray bottles and more paper towels. Classrooms will also be stocked with hand sanitizer, facemasks will be made available for anyone who needs one and plexiglass barriers will be installed if desks are unable to be six feet apart.
Q: How will student cohorts be assigned?
A: High school students will be split up according to class size, with half of a class in one group and the other half in the other. This will be done alphabetically according to last name, and the district will do its best to ensure siblings are attending class on the same days.
Q: How will the district enforce mask wearing?
A: All secondary students will be required to wear a mask on campus, Lawler said. Students who refuse to wear a mask must remain on distance learning, and students on campus will receive up to three warnings about wearing their mask before a parent/teacher conference is scheduled. During the conference, the parent will sign a contract agreeing that the student will wear a mask. Should another infraction occur, the student will be moved to distance learning. Chief Communication Coordinator Marie Russell noted that students who are not able to wear a mask may obtain a doctor’s note from the school nurse to be signed, and the student will then be required to wear a face shield with a drape. Students must wear their masks during P.E. class as well, and bandanas, gaiters or masks with valves are not permitted.
Q: Are the grab-and-go lunches available for all students?
A: Yes. The students who remain on distance learning will still be able to pick up their lunch, and students at school will take their school lunch home for the rest of the day’s distance learning.
Q: Can a parent or guardian change their mind once their commitment survey has already been submitted?
A: Lawler said this would be a challenge for the district. While TUSD has been able to make changes for students at the elementary level on a case-by-case basis, the large volume of secondary students and more complex schedules would make rearranging students more difficult. Though there’s still the possibility that the district could make changes for secondary students on a case-by-case basis as well, Lawler encouraged families to make a decision for the rest of the school year and stick to it, if possible.
Q: What does “synchronous instruction” mean, and would a student have to change teachers if they’re participating in distance learning?
A: TUSD will be utilizing special technology which will allow teachers to instruct students in the classroom and at home, at the same time. With this special camera system, teachers don’t have to stand in front of their computer screen but can move about the room. Students will be in the same class with the same teacher, but learning from different locations.
Q: Will there be time for students to hang out with their friends on campus?
A: Russell told the forum viewers that high school will still look much different despite students returning to campus. Instead of hanging out with friends at lunch, students have to take their food and go. The district hopes that as time passes and COVID cases continue to trend downward, students will be able to spend more time on campus. Similar to the staggered elementary reopening which saw students return to school by grade level, allowing fewer secondary students on campus at the start of the reopening will ensure the plan works well and can then be expanded.
Q: How much time will there be between returning to the red tier and returning to campus and will there be any kind of orientation for students who have never been on a junior high or high school campus before?
A: Trevethan said that TUSD receives an update from SCPH every Tuesday. If the district receives the news that Stanislaus County had moved into the red tier on a Tuesday, administration would work through the week and weekend to return students to campus by the following Monday. Campuses are working on videos to welcome seventh grade and freshman students who are new to campus, and most have plans to send maps home.
Q: If there is a surge and the county goes back into the purple tier, would schools have to close?
A: If TUSD opens secondary schools while in the red tier, they would not have to close the campuses again should Stanislaus County fall back into the purple tier. This is because once opened, Russell explained, TUSD has its own closure criteria at the classroom, school and district level.
Q: Will there be after school programs and clubs?
A: Lawler said that TUSD and the City of Turlock have decided not to offer the after-school program due both cohorting requirements as well as a lack of employees at the City. The district is also trying to minimize the presence of non-TUSD employees on campuses so that fewer adults are involved in contact tracing. School principals added that many clubs are meeting virtually, which students are invited to join.
Q: Will band and choir resume when students return to campus?
A: Russell said that once Stanislaus County’s case rate is lower than 25 per 100,000, band and choir classes will be permitted to practice outdoors, socially-distanced with masks. Lawler added that TUSD has ordered special masks which will allow wearers to partake in wind instrument and vocal performances.