teacher and students with face masks in class
Photo by Halfpoint / Shutterstock.com

By Elizabeth Vaughn
Copy Editor, Valley Ag Voice

On July 17th Governor Newsom and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released a 12-point guidance plan related to the re-opening of public and private schools for the 2020-21 school year. The new requirement only allows schools to re-open for in-person instruction when the county has been off the statewide monitoring list for 14 consecutive days. The guidance also addresses the criteria and process for re-closing schools once they have opened for in-person instruction. 

Most of the 47 school districts in Kern County are projected to start the 2020-2021 school year August 12th. However, the way in which each district will begin will differ due to the state’s requirements for social distancing in this COVID-19 landscape. This is important since every school district is uniquely situated with different challenges, resources, and stakeholders. For instance, rural schools may find the social distancing requirements slightly easier to adhere to simply due to student population. Bakersfield City School District has roughly 30,000 students, compared to Maple School District in Shafter with about 300 students. 

Many districts are leaning toward some type of a hybrid option. What this means is that students will be at their physical school part of the week and will do remote learning the other parts. In mid-July, KCSOS spokesman Robert Meszaros said, “There would be two cohorts, which would alternate days. What this does is ensures there are fewer people on campus at any one time so that appropriate distancing of people can be achieved. Additionally, parent choice is important, and therefore, districts will likely offer a 100% distance learning options for parents who do not feel comfortable sending their children back to school yet.” 

One unique plan is being utilized by McFarland Union School District. Similar to how the state and county are abiding by phases based on risk of exposure to the public so too the plan for reopening is guided by phases. Each phase has a target date to guide one to the other, but this is contingent upon decision from the board. Their plan contains 4 phases that progress from (1) highest risk where there is no in-person interaction, (2) moderate risk where K through 1st meets alternating days, (3) minimal risk where K through 12 meets alternating days, and (4) low to no risk where all student attend with the option for distance learning. No matter the phase the school choses to move through, distance learning is always an option for parents to choose. 

To help each board of trustees gauge what practices would be best, most school districts are utilizing surveys to get input from teachers, other staff, and parents prior to making any decisions. When asking KCSOS spokesman who and how much would have a say on the fall opening planning, he mentioned over email that in addition to teachers and parents other “bargaining units (e.g., unions) that represent teachers and classified staff are generally brought to table for discussions and collective agreements.” A simple research of the available data from the BCSD and a few other districts show an increase in apprehension to face-to-face interaction, thus why many schools are seriously considering total distance learning, at least for the first part of the fall semester. 

We spoke with Julie Boesch, Superintendent of the Maple School District in Shafter regarding the fall planning process. Her team, like many others, has met over Zoom and phone calls to stay in constant communication since March to ensure everyone is up to date on any new developments handed down from the state. Everyone agrees that face-to-face is the best when it comes teaching and learning, but with the challenges that would pose, the hybrid and/or distance learning will be utilized. As such, the fall is looking to introduce similarities from the end of the spring semester; the difference is that more planning can occur prior to kick-off. Julie recounted what this last semester was like: “When we had to send our students home in the spring, we were able to engage every one of our staff members in service to our students. We reached out to 100% of our students using every available avenue: phone calls, letters, home visits, our Parent Club Facebook page, our district website, our Remind app, Zoom… you name it, we used it! Each week as we met as a staff the overwhelming recurring theme was “we miss our students!”

She continued saying, “Our current hope is that we are able to offer parent choice with the students who are comfortable returning to campus while following all recommended safety measures. We will also be providing a robust virtual learning experience for students who are not comfortable returning to campus at this time.” The Maple School District Board will meet July 28th to make the final decision, most likely to follow the virtual learning model.

One thing 2020 has taught is that virtual meetings and learning can be accomplished wherever you are if you have a device and Wi-Fi. The Maple School District was no different as Julie stated, “Our teachers have participated in hours of continued learning to extend and expand their skills. Our students each have a Chromebook and connectivity which has been provided to them. We also have provided the families with videos, tech support, and step by step instructions to help them help their students. This training and learning will continue for all: staff, students, and families. We are committed to doing the very best we can for every student, every day.”

Due to the timing of this piece and how many things can alter from week to week, reach out to the individual school districts to get the most recent info on school practices for opening the school year.