In preparation for the first day of school on Aug. 11, Turlock Unified School District on Wednesday held a virtual forum informing the community of changes to its school safety plan following the first full year of academics during the pandemic.
With the new school year comes the return of in-person learning for TUSD students of all ages, and Wednesday’s forum covered topics and district protocols which will best help students remain back in the classroom full time.
“We do believe that’s the most effective instruction and something they all deserve,” TUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Barney Gordon said, explaining the district is following directives from three guiding principles including the California Department of Public Health, Cal-OSHA and K-12 guidance.
When it comes to masks in TUSD schools, face coverings are optional outdoors for everyone vaccinated and unvaccinated. They are required to be worn indoors when students and adults are working in the same room and any other situations where students are present indoors.
Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Heidi Lawler said that TUSD is still conferring with legal counsel on how best to enforce the wearing of masks indoors on campuses, but that TUSD will indeed be enforcing the wearing of masks.
“I think our philosophy on that is that’s a requirement, and we need everyone to wear those masks. The reason for them is to maintain the health and safety of our students and staff,” Lawler said. “We’re going to approach that with an educational perspective and for those who for one reason or another arrive at school without a mask, we will provide them with that, remind them and work through a series of steps which ultimately will require that student to wear a mask and if it is determined that an alternate program might be more appropriate, we do have some options at other school sites.”
For those who qualify for the limited number of exemptions from face coverings, the district will provide face shields with a drape.
This school year there will be no distance learning or cohorts on campus, as updated state guidelines do away with social distancing since mitigation measures, like sanitation and masks, are shown to curb spread of COVID. Those who feel it isn’t safe for their child to return back to campus can enroll their student in independent study, which will include daily contact with an instructor — with the camera on — and progress tracking to see how well students are doing.
If it’s deemed a student is not making significant learning progress on independent study, they could be moved back to in-person learning. If a parent requests that their child be moved back to in-person learning, the district must make the change in five days or less.
In addition to new CDC-approved air filters, hand sanitization pumps in every class and continued disinfecting of classrooms, TUSD has also implemented a stringent contact tracing program on campus to help thwart outbreaks.
One change this school year, however, is that students who are fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine if they are deemed are exposed to COVID. Families will have the chance to submit COVID vaccination records to their child’s schools in order to speed up this exemption process, Gordon explained.
There are other ways for students to avoid quarantine other than vaccination, he added. A student exposed to COVID doesn’t have to quarantine if they test negative for the virus regularly and exhibit no symptoms, or if both students were wearing masks when the potential exposure occurred.
For students exhibiting illness symptoms, the 10-day quarantine can be avoided with a note from their healthcare provider showing the illness is not COVID-related or if they test negative for the virus.
“One thing last year was if a student or staff came in contact with a possible case or close contact, there were few options to keep that student or staff on campus,” Gordon said. “Now, there are more options for us to be able to use to keep students in the classroom safely.”
Other changes discussed in the forum included the addition of new counselors at elementary sites as well as more mental health clinicians throughout the district, completing what Lawler called a multi-tiered approach to the mental and socioemotional needs of students starting in the classroom.
All in all, school this year will look the closest to normal it has been in quite some time, though COVID is still very much a risk to the community. There will be field trips, athletic events and even outdoor education will return to Foothill Horizons next winter and spring. Music ensembles and the arts will return as well, and students will be able to interact with each other collaboratively in the classroom and socially at lunch and on breaks.
The district is asking all families to fill out a Commitment Survey by July 26 stating whether their child will be learning in-person or through independent study. The survey can be accessed via the TUSD website, https://www.turlock.k12.ca.us/.
To view the entire virtual forum, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNOYJn6UXuY.