As the economy throughout California begins to reopen in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, local school districts are creating and announcing plans to welcome students back to campus for the 2020-21 school year.
At the end of May, Turlock Unified School District asked parents to complete a survey which called on them to consider four different learning options for their children this fall: a traditional learning model (daily classroom attendance), a blended learning model (two days in class, three days distance learning), a distance learning model (recent pandemic model) or a hybrid learning model (interactions with teacher at school and through technology, but learning at home).
TUSD released the results of the survey on Monday, to which nearly 45 percent (4,024) of the district’s total parents responded. According to TUSD Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Heidi Lawler, parent input will be used along with state and local guidance to develop a reopening plan which will be released in early July.
The district also received over 1,700 comments, which included varying opinions from parents on what school should look like once it reopens. Frequent comments included insight from those who want to see school return with a traditional schedule and normal activities, parents who would like safety protocols (frequent hand washing, social distancing, sanitization and disinfecting) in place, parents both in favor of and against students and staff wearing masks, those who want schools to wait for a vaccine to reopen and parents with a desire for improved communication between students and teachers should distance learning continue, among others.
According to Lawler, TUSD is aware of the challenges that come with crafting a plan when there are so many opinions surrounding best safety practices during the pandemic.
“The purpose of the survey was for TUSD to gain an understanding of parent perspectives on reopening with regard to the learning models and health and safety protocols. While we will need to make decisions based on state and local guidance to best serve the students of the District, the parent feedback through the surveys was invaluable in shaping any implementation plan,” Lawler said. “Since such a high percentage indicated that they would like to see hand soap and/or hand sanitizer available in classrooms, restrooms and around campus, we are making every effort to make that happen. For those areas with more varied responses, we clearly understand the need to be empathetic to all viewpoints and support students and families as we all navigate the return to school together.”
According to the survey, 73 percent of respondents would send their children back to school should campuses reopen and 67 percent prefer their children return to a traditional learning model where students attend class five days per week. Should TUSD not be able to reopen campuses, 59 percent said they would like their student to return with a blended learning model while 25 percent said no. Forty-six percent of parents said they would not like their child to continue going to school via distance learning if campuses cannot reopen and 39 percent said they would.
TUSD also asked parents if they would request a hybrid learning model regardless of whether or not campuses reopen. Twenty percent of parents said they would request a hybrid model, 59 percent responded “no” and 22 percent were undecided.
“As TUSD prepares to reopen, state and local guidance, including that of the Public Health Officer, will be paramount in determining whether the Traditional, Blended, or Distance Learning Model will be implemented. The Hybrid (Independent Learning) Model is an option that parents may select if that is most desirable for their student,” Lawler said. “The feedback on the different models will assist with developing those models more fully and ensuring quality instruction, social emotional learning and intervention/enrichment are included to meet student needs.”
Suggestions from parents allowed TUSD to place quantitative value on different safety measures that could be implemented this fall. For example, nearly all respondents (90 percent) said they would like to see hand soap and hand sanitizer available throughout campuses. Seventy-two percent would like to see social distancing measures implemented, 40 percent believe staff should wear masks, 36 percent believe students should wear masks and 14 percent don’t feel any measures are necessary to reopen schools.
Parent input is vital to implementing a reopening plan, Lawler said, as parents were on the frontlines during TUSD’s first try at distance learning this spring.
“During this unprecedented time, parents remained at home with their children and gained insight on many aspects of learning that was crucial in our planning for the 2020-21 school year,” she said. “Through the suggestions section, parents shared personal anecdotes, questions and concerns with honesty and sincerity. Their perspective is essential and valued by TUSD.”
Hilmar Unified School District is also still working on a reopening plan and is conducting a similar survey of their own. Parents can view the survey at www.hilmarusd.org and have until June 25 to submit their input.
At Denair Unified School District, classes will resume Aug. 12 with teachers and students together in the classroom and plenty of safeguards in place. All staff and students will be encouraged, but not required, to wear facemasks when social distancing of three to six feet cannot be maintained and frequent handwashing will also be recommended.
“I want the community to know we are being thoughtful and strategic in our planning,” DUSD superintendent Terry Metzger said. “We have tried to think through how best to protect our students and staff while fulfilling our educational mission, but we recognize that circumstances in our community could change before school begins in August.”
DUSD has alternative learning models in mind should health requirements change, which are similar to TUSD’s and include a blended learning model (two days in class, three days distance learning), pure distance learning (to be implemented only if shelter-in-place mandates return) or independent study for parents who don’t feel comfortable with their children returning to school.
DUSD also conducted a parent survey of its own, which found that 70.5 percent of parents and 50.4 percent of staff want school to resume in a traditional manner, with students on campus five days a week and reasonable safety precautions in place. Twenty-one percent of parents and 44.8 percent of staff want a combination of on-campus and distance learning, while 8.5 percent of parents and 4.8 percent of staff want distance learning only.
Desks will be spaced further apart when DUSD classes resume, sanitization options will be available throughout campuses and “grab and go” meal options will be provided to avoid long cafeteria lines.
Turlock Christian Schools will resume classes Aug. 13 and will operate “as close to ‘normal’ as possible” according to a letter sent out by TCS Head of School Dr. William Hoyt. According to Hoyt, TCS is exploring various strategies to accommodate full enrollment at all grade levels since students “learn best when meeting regularly.”
“We are taking health and safety seriously. Any re-engagement with life after the quarantine has risks, be it at school or any other arena. My staff and I are listening to reliable voices and studying the ever-changing data,” Hoyt said. “We are in the process of establishing protocols designed to mitigate the risks for students, teachers and staff.”