Turlock Unified School District is ahead of the game when it comes to the state’s plan to return students to in-person learning, a legislative agreement highlighted by Gov. Gavin Newsom this week.
The $6.6 billion budget package is meant to both accelerate a safe return to school for students throughout the state and empower schools to immediately expand academic, mental health and social-emotional support, including over the summer.
Under the terms, districts by April 1 must open kindergarten through second grade classrooms in order to receive a share of $2 billion provided in incentive funding, which will be used for safety measures to aid in-person instruction, and must bring back cohorts of students in all grades who have been most harmed by the pandemic, including homeless, foster youth, English learners, chronically absent students, students without access to internet and students with disabilities.
TUSD has done both of these things already; the district brought back TK-6 students in a staggered reopening in October of last year, and began returning small learning cohorts in September with expansion to secondary students last November.
In addition, districts must reopen at least one grade at the middle school or high school level once their respective county has reached the red tier. Currently, TUSD is planning to return all secondary students to in-person instruction, once Stanislaus County is in the red tier, for two half days per week to start.
According to TUSD Chief Communication Coordinator Marie Russell, the district will be applying for funding provided through the budget package should they be deemed eligible. The other $4.6 billion included in the package will be utilized by districts to fund expanded learning opportunities, such as summer school, tutoring and mental health services.
“Since the height of the winter surge, we have successfully shifted the conversation from whether to reopen schools to when,” Newsom said. “Now, our collective charge is to build on that momentum and local leadership, and – just as critically – do whatever it takes to meet the mental health and academic needs of our students, including over the summer.”
TUSD is working to reopen its campuses safely in phases, and is preparing to welcome TK-6 students back to school four days per week on March 15. While Wednesdays will remain as distance learning for now, all cohorts will be on campus Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Protests continued on Tuesday, with groups of parents and students staging a second “sit-in” in front of the District Office during the day and calling for the full, five days per week reopening of secondary campuses during the evening Board of Trustees meeting.
TUSD campuses with grades 7-12 are set to return in cohorts twice per week for half days of in-person instruction the Monday after Stanislaus County enters the red tier. As with elementary, TUSD hopes to move through phases of reopening for secondary campuses, with the first being Phase 1. Phase 2 would see the reopening model revised to two full days on campus, tentatively scheduled for March 29, while Phase 3 would provide two full days on campus with alternating Wednesdays, potentially as soon as April 12.
Phase 4’s date is yet to be determined, but would feature a traditional return to school with safeguards in place.
In order to meet red tier criteria, Stanislaus County must have an average of between four and seven daily COVID cases per 100k residents and a positivity rate of between 5% and 8%. Data released by the state on Tuesday showed the county with 15.6 cases per day per 100K and a 6.3% positivity rate.
“As we near the one-year anniversary of school closures across the state, TUSD looks forward to being in the red tier soon so that we can begin returning students to campus in a manner that aligns to CDPH guidelines for stable cohorts, physical distancing, and other mitigation measures to help us not only reopen, but stay open,” TUSD said in a statement. “We will continue to adapt to new guidelines within our 4-phase reopening plan to maximize elementary and secondary student time on campuses that aligns to both safety protocols and facility capacity.”