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Secondary schools to fully reopen with safety measures in April
Pitman High students
Pitman High students celebrate earlier this week being back on campus for the first time in a year with a reduced schedule. Come April 12, Pride students are expected to be back in class full time (Photo contributed).

The city’s junior high and high school students will get a taste of normalcy this school year after all, following updated state guidance which allows for all Turlock Unified School District secondary students to return to the classroom full time following spring break. 

The full return to the classroom is much sooner than anticipated, with TUSD originally laying out a reopening plan which had the final phase’s date as “to be determined.” Ever-evolving guidance from public health has kept the district on its toes, however, with this being the third time the plan has been changed. 

TUSD students in grades 7-12 returned to class this week in cohorts, with the campus population split into two separate groups which attend in-person instruction on different days in order to allow for social distancing. Students would have had to wait until Thursday to return given Stanislaus County just entered the red tier this week, but were able to come back sooner thanks to a lawsuit in San Diego.

Students in Cohort A are currently in class on Mondays and Thursdays, while Cohort B attends on Tuesdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, all students participate in distance learning. The initial phase of the reopening was originally for students to return to two half-days of in-person instruction per week, but updated contact tracing guidance from Stanislaus County made full days possible. 

As part of the next phase, each cohort would have attended in-person on alternating Wednesdays. Now, new guidance will see the A and B cohorts merge after spring break and attend five full days of in-person learning on a pre-pandemic bell schedule starting April 12. Students who would like to make a change from distance learning to in-person instruction or vice-versa must contact their school counselors no later than 3 p.m. March 29. 

So, why the change? In alignment with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, the California Department of Public Health last weekend announced that the minimum social distancing requirement in schools would be halved from six feet to three feet, allowing for more students to fit into a classroom at one time. 

The revised guidance is simple: three feet social distancing is “strongly recommended” but not required, as long as other safety measures like masks, proper ventilation, contact tracing and virus detection protocols are in place. During school meals, social distancing increases to six feet.

The social distancing changes came from the CDC after recent studies showed COVID transmission has been low in schools where students are required to wear masks, and that the difference between three of six feet of social distancing was indiscernible. 

Previous state guidance required six-foot distancing when feasible, with a four-foot minimum where cohorts or hybrids were not possible. 

In a statement to the Journal, TUSD Superintendent Dana Salles Trevethan celebrated the return of students while reminding the community that the choice is optional for families. 

“Our TUSD community has endured a great deal this past year, including the difficult loss of colleagues and students which have been our greatest fears. Never before have we needed to work more together to maintain focus, positivity, and optimism for our students and each other…and never before have relationships with students mattered more than they do now,” she said. “We are excited that the new CDPH guidance has afforded us the opportunity to bring students back to campus five days a week as we know for many, they desperately need the connections to their peers and teachers that in-person instruction provides. However, we also recognize that not all families are ready making this change and we will continue to provide distance learning with synchronous instruction for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year. 

“Whether at school, or learning from home, these are all our students and we remain committed to ensuring that all students learn, feel connected, and understand that the future looks brighter than ever before, and we are on a path to getting back to normal again soon.”