Around the world school reopenings have not been without controversy, decisions impact 1.4 billion students.
Throughout the U.S., answers for how to resume school and start AY 2020-2021 differ between states. A few U.S. states with low case and fatality rates have quietly announced reopening dates for some schools or school populations this year (students with IEPs, for example). School districts, with county offices of education and the state officials, are planning how to reopen schools in the fall to ensure the safety and well-being of students and staff. Announcements for how to reopen are happening amid a White House push to get children back into classrooms.
“California school superintendents are negotiating an obstacle course of regulations, parental angst and safety concerns as they make plans to do something never done before — reopen schools during a pandemic.School officials are balancing ensuring the safety of students and teachers with the need to offer child care for parents who must work. They are weighing sometimes conflicting guidance from the state, local health departments and education organizations, and trying to appease parents who have differing opinions about whether their children should wear masks or practice social distancing.” (EdSource DIANA LAMBERT)
“There’s a public health imperative to keep schools from becoming a petri dish,” said Austin Beutner, the school superintendent in Los Angeles….American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and AASA, the School Superintendents Association issued a statement saying that reopening recommendations should be “based on evidence, not politics.”
The groups added that “we should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.”(NY Times)
The following school districts have announced distance-only fall back-to-school:
update 7/15/2020 : Folsom Cordova Unified School District, board members decided Tuesday, July 14, to approve distance learning for the fall. The school district voted 4-1 to keep the school closures in place.
- Los Angeles Unified
- San Diego Unified
- Stockton Unified School District
- Stanislaus County
- Oakland Unified
- San Bernardino County
- East Side Union High School District in San Jose, the region’s largest high school district as well as others
- West Contra Costa Unified
- Alum Rock Union School District, also in San Jose
TODAY – Monday, July 13, 2020 – Schools in California’s two largest districts — Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified — will not reopen for in-person learning when the school year begins next month, the districts announced Monday, saying that it would not be safe to do so while the coronavirus continues to spread. Students in those districts will instead continue to learn at home, as they did for the final months of last school year.
Today, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state was seeing concerning increases in hospitalizations and coronavirus patients in intensive care units. Due to the rising numbers, Newsom ordered that bars all across the state must close. Previously, only bars in counties on the state’s watch list were ordered to close. now all 58 counties. More restrictions will be in place for the now 30 counties that are on the state’s watch list, including San Joaquin County. In those counties, the following activities are being ordered to close their indoor operations: fitness centers, places of worship, non-critical offices, personal care services, hair salons, barbershops and malls.
Other districts plans as of Friday last week:
- Also today, “Students in the Stockton Unified School District will not be returning to the classroom next month for the first day of school due to the increase in coronavirus cases in San Joaquin County.Instead, the 2020-2021 school year will start with a “100% distance learning model,” the district said Monday. Instruction will resume on Aug. 3 for the district, which serves more than 50 schools. In a press release, the district said it plans on returning to in-person learning ” during the school year as soon as public health conditions allow.”
- Stanislaus County also announced Monday afternoon that school will resume with a distance learning model in August. The county also said all conditioning for fall sports and extracurricular activities are suspended until further notice.
- Oakland Unified announced Friday (July 10) that the school year will start Aug. 10 with students learning from home.
- San Bernardino County, its school district this week announced classes would resume next month online. Harold Vollkommer, interim superintendent of that district, at some point after the beginning of the school year, the district may begin offering “in-person check-in and support services for small groups of students” and could eventually transition to a hybrid model. But that’s “if and only when we can do so safely. The date for this transition has not been determined and will be made in the context of our community’s needs in consultation with the department of public health and based on final approval by our board,” he added. “And for those families who desire distance learning for an extended period of time, we will offer that program as well.”
- East Side Union High School District in San Jose, the region’s largest high school district, as well as a few others, have made similar calls.
- West Contra Costa Unified, which serves 32,000 students in the East Bay, announced this week it will allow only a limited number of special needs students to return to campuses when the semester begins August 17.
- Alum Rock Union School District, also in San Jose, will continue distance learning for about 90% of its students in the fall, with in-person instruction available for students who are homeless, in foster programs, have special needs, or who are recent immigrants who have little fluency in English and who need additional resources
Eureka Unified School District in Placer County’s Granite Bay community is planning to reopen its schools for in-person instruction five days a week, with other options for students with health concerns. Placer County, located east of Sacramento, had 982 cases of Covid-19 on July 9, a 70% increase over two weeks. “Our parents want five days a week, which I think a lot of school districts have found out,” said Ginna Myers, director of curriculum and instruction for the Eureka Unified School District in Placer County. “They are concerned that their kids are losing out on the social emotional aspect of school, as well as concerned about learning loss.”
- Natomas Unified, a district of 11,600 students in Sacramento, is planning to give families four choices next school year. Students can attend school on campus five days a week, enroll in independent study courses, continue distance learning from home or attend school on campus part of the week and study from home part of the week. District officials are hoping to limit five-day enrollment to 50% of each class, but say they will adjust by adding more teachers or installing clear physical dividers between desks as needed to increase enrollment.
Palo Alto Unified is among the districts that proposed plans, then later made major revisions after receiving pushback from teachers and parents. This week the district released a proposal that would split elementary students into two groups that rotate onto campus a few days a week and take part in distance learning the rest of the week. Parents also would have the option to enroll their children in a full-time distance learning program. Secondary school students would primarily be learning online.
“Those countries that have managed to safely reopen schools have done so with declining infection rates and on-demand testing available. California has neither. The skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control,” the two (LA and SD) districts said in a joint statement.(edsource.org)
“I want to be very clear, we want students at school,” West Contra Costa’s Duffy wrote in his email. “We need students at school. Many students need to be at school for a variety of reasons: more engaging educational opportunities, socio-emotional support, access to meals and health care. However, with the rising number of Covid-19 cases in California since the easing of restrictions, it is clear that asymptomatic transmission in close quarters is a key concern. In all good conscience, the safety of students and staff must be our top priority.”
The Los Angeles and San Diego unified school districts, which together enroll some 825,000 students, are the largest so far in the country to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August.