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TUSD eyes mid-March return for secondary students
Some parents, students protest return plan’s specifics
TUSD reopen protest
A large group gathered outside of the Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday to call for the full reopening of schools (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

As Turlock Unified School District presented its plan to bring secondary students back to campus in the coming weeks to the Board of Trustees on Tuesday evening, a group of parents, students and other community members gathered outside of the meeting to say the proposal doesn’t meet their expectations. 

The district’s “Safe Schools 7-12 Reopening Plan” would see junior high and high school students return to school for two half days per week. In order for secondary schools in Turlock to open under the plan, Stanislaus County must be in the red tier of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy for at least five consecutive days. 

The instruction plan for secondary schools is described as a blended learning model with synchronous instruction and would see students at each school split into two groups. Group A would attend half of the school day on campus on Mondays and Thursdays, while Group B would attend half of the school day on Tuesdays and Fridays. All students would participate in distance learning on Wednesdays, as well as the remaining half of the day when they spend the morning on campus. 

For example, students in Group A at Pitman High School would attend first, second and third period on campus on Monday, then attend their fifth, sixth and seventh periods via distance learning later that day. On Thursday, Group A would attend periods five through seven in person, then their other classes through distance learning later that day. The same process would be followed for Group B at each campus, but on their assigned days.

Parents have expressed displeasure at the proposed plan and were able to mobilize on social media in order to stage a protest outside of Tuesday’s meeting. Many parents in the Facebook group “REOPEN ALL TURLOCK SCHOOLS,” which has amassed nearly 450 members, find the plan to bring students back to campus for just two half days “unacceptable,” said the group's moderator, Kristin Patterson. 

Patterson and about 80 others convened outside of the Board meeting on Tuesday for a peaceful protest, calling for the full — or more large scale — reopening of secondary schools.

She pointed to Hilmar High School, where high school students attend two to three full days of classes on campus, depending on the week. During the Board meeting’s public comment period, which lasted 45 minutes, Patterson gave other examples of schools in the country which have welcomed students back on campus as well as data she said proves it’s safe for them to return.

“They just need to be aware of the repercussions if they don't heed the information we’re providing them,” Patterson told the Journal. “They’re trying to just run with the plan that they have and it’s not going to work. Two half days is not going to help students who have been out of school for almost a year. There’s no reason they can’t go back two full days.”

TUSD Chief Communication Coordinator Marie Russell explained during the plan’s presentation that due to contact tracing, the district did their best to limit students’ number of contacts during the school day in order to prevent school closures should an outbreak occur. 

Superintendent Dana Salles Trevethan stated during the presentation that she received the stack of 90 letters from students, parents and other stakeholders hoping to reopen schools which was hand-delivered to her by Patterson earlier in the day, and thanked her for the effort. 

While she said she understands new Centers for Disease Control information has been released regarding the opening of schools, TUSD must adhere to Stanislaus County and California public health guidelines, as the two entities are responsible for approving the secondary school reopening plan. 

“The plan you’re about to see is our best initial thinking to get things rolling...we’d love to be able to start large, but the fact is we’re not there yet so we’re going to take the opportunity to start small and we’re going to build where we can when we can,” Trevethan said. “...To think two half days may be insufficient, it’s better than where we’re at. It’s a start.”

Trevethan encouraged the community to have an open mind when it comes to reopening, but acknowledged that countless students are suffering without school — students like Turlock High School junior Ben Watson, who said he showed up to the pre-meeting protest because he’s lost without sports and class. 

“It’s really hard at home. People don’t really go to classes because they sleep in. They don’t really care about school and a lot of us are lonely and depressed,” Watson said, and added that he himself has felt depressed. “It’s not fun. I started falling a little bit behind in school.”

“It really hit me hard,” said Patterson, who also noticed that her own son’s behavior and mood has been affected. “I’m not going to be patient anymore when it comes to my kids. I love them too much and I’m not going to let them wither away.”

The full secondary reopening plan, including other safety measures which will be put in place to protect students and staff, can be viewed on the TUSD website, TUSD is currently targeting mid-March as the reopening date under the presented plan, and will host a staff forum Q&A and parent forum Q&A on Feb. 17 and 18, respectively. 

A communication and commitment survey will be sent to parents on Feb. 19 and TUSD will host a COVID-19 staff and parent/student training and submit a health and safety agreement the week of Feb. 22.