On June 30th, the Elk Grove Unified School District Board of Education convened virtually to discuss a transitional plan for schools in the district. Tactical teams focused on various areas of school life, presenting their transition plans to the board. The committee made a hybrid model, where students would come to school for two half days, while the rest of the week students would learn from a computer. The meeting ran for eight hours, with varying opinions voiced by the public and the board.
It should be noted that the Board of Education did not decide on a plan for the district. This meeting was solely held to discuss and view what the transitional plan for EGUSD would look like. The board has not reached a final decision and knows that they have to be flexible in this changing climate. However, the board does realize a decision needs to be made soon to meet their August deadline for the next school year.
There were several items on the agenda for the June 30th board meeting. Aside from presenting the transitional plan, the board received a lengthy and in-depth presentation from Shannon Hayes regarding the district’s budget. At the last board meeting, the district’s budget looked “horrific” according to Beth Albiani. She stated she was about to cry because the district was “in the hole” on day one of the school year. Fortunately, with the aid of the government and other grants, the district’s budget is in the green.
Now, on to the transition plan itself.
According to the plan, students can expect to spend two half days at school with their peers and teachers. The rest of the time students will engage in distance learning from their computers. Students will be placed in Cohorts; how many Cohorts there will be in each school is undecided. Students can expect to come to school as early as 7:45 AM, and leave the campus as early as 12 PM. There were two different plans presented to the board in regards to middle schools and high schools, based on the use of periods.
This is the first plan, which is the Two Cohort, Six Period Plan. Depending on what Cohort a student is assigned to, they may be on campus for Tuesday/Wednesday or Thursday/Friday. Across all grade levels, students will engage in distance learning on Mondays. This plan would allow students to have six periods conducted in-person, but each period would last an hour and twenty minutes. Lunch would start around noon, then students would go home to engage in distance learning.
The second plan is the Staggered 4×4 block. This plan relies on staggering the arrival and departure times for each Cohort. Some students would arrive by 8 AM, 8:15 AM, 10: 45 AM, and 11 AM. Students would attend two periods per day, and lunch would start as early as 10:15 AM. Regardless, students would still engage in distance learning on Mondays, and on days they are dismissed early.
Both plans would allow students to be on campus for eight hours per week.
Elementary schools would have a similar schedule, where they would come to school in the mornings and leave in the afternoons. There would be options for extracurriculars when school was dismissed. The greatest priority is making sure that students can read, especially for first, second, and third graders.
For special education students, it is not known if their schedules will look the same as others. There will be an expansion of assessments and a transitional model for self-contained classrooms will be made that would also include service delivery of goods. Improvements are going to be made for distance learning.
Social Distancing And Health
Everyone in the meeting was well aware of the complications that COVOID-19 presents to the public. The presentation gave extensive measures on social distancing and other measures to protect everyone’s health. Students and staff would need to wear face coverings upon entering campus, and when they are in large gatherings. Hand washing or using sanitizer would be mandatory for students and staff.
Classrooms would also be altered to follow healthcare guidelines set by the Sacramento County Health Department. Desks would be spaced six feet apart, limiting the number of students in each classroom. It is expected that each classroom would house between 10 to 14 students with their teacher. Face coverings could be removed if students and staff are sitting down and adhere to social distancing guidelines.
A Wellness Check needs to be conducted on both students and staff. With the use of a thermometer, people would get their temperature taken. If symptoms of COVOID-19 do manifest, the school would take the following precautions:
- Low Risk
- Someone on campus has COVOID-19 and has been on campus for about 30 minutes. The patient would be sent to an isolation room until health officials arrive to conduct contact tracing and other processes. The family of the patient would be notified, although it is unsure if the entire school would be notified. The patient would transfer to distance learning.
- Medium Risk
- Someone on campus has COVOID-19 and has entered a classroom. The entire classroom would be notified, and the patient sent to an isolation room until health officials arrive. The family of the patient and the families of other classmates would be notified. The entire classroom transfers to distance learning.
- High Risk
- Someone on campus has COVOID-19 and has had extensive contact with people. Potentially more than one person has the virus as well. The patient (s) would be transferred to an isolation room until health officials arrive. The entire school would transition to distance learning. The school would have to be closed for a minimum of two to five days to allow for cleaning and disinfecting.
As a side note, custodians would not be the only ones cleaning and disinfecting the campus. Staff would be trained on how to disinfect their classrooms, and students could possibly expect to clean and sanitize their own desks.
Students will also be fed breakfast and lunch. Packaged meals will be used and possibly delivered to students who need them. Meals will be provided on social distancing days as well.
Mental And Social-Emotional Health
The public and members of the board realize that canceling school has had a negative impact on students. Problems such as depression, anxiety, regression of skills, and higher suicide rates across the country are a result of COVOID-19 and the cancellation of school. Students not only miss being in the classroom with their peers and teachers, but they miss their other activities.
As such, schools would need to be prepared to deal with these new mental and social-emotional health problems. Counselors would be needed more than ever. A support system must be in place for not only the staff but families of these students as well. Presenters discussed a potential referral service for students who are struggling with the transition. Educators would also need to be sensitive to the cultural differences of each student. Overall, the staff needs to be aware that students will be struggling mentally and socially because of COVOID-19.
The board and presenters realize that students (and parents) desperately miss their extracurricular activities. Sadly, activities like sports, theater, and band had to be canceled due to the pandemic. There are tentative plans to reinstate extracurricular activities once students are dismissed.
This will be a major hurdle for the district to contend with. Many students rely on school buses, but health and safety guidelines will make travel difficult. There is a shortage of drivers, especially since the closure of the DMV has made it impossible to certify new drivers. School buses cannot operate at full capacity if they are to follow social distancing guidelines. Guidelines state that one student can be placed on every other bench. In a 84 passenger bus, only 10 to 14 students will be allowed on the bus. Smaller buses will have 3 to 10 students. About 1300 students can be transported according to health guidelines, but staggered schedules will make transportation easier.
Xanthi Pinkerton spent roughly two hours reading comments from the public. The comments varied in opinion and desires, with parents, staff, and even students chiming in with their opinions. It is hard to state which was the dominant opinion, whether schools should open fully or if students should continue with distance learning due to the virus. While a hybrid model was presented, there was a small percentage of the public who actually supported the model.
There was a plethora of concern about getting students to school, especially for working parents. The hybrid model was not popular due to the fact that students would be at school for half days instead of full days. Half days were inconvenient for working parents. Furthermore, parents did not believe that half days were going to be productive for students. Many seemed to prefer an all or nothing plan. Either students would learn at home all day, or attend a full day at school.
The vast majority of parents (and some students) did not like distance learning. In fact, there were multiple statements from parents who believed that their students regressed. Trouble with technology was a main complaint. Another complaint was the fact that students, especially the younger ones, preferred in-person interaction. A computer could not replace a human teacher, a comment echoed by many parents.
Teachers and other school staff voiced their concerns too. Teachers missed being with their students and doing their jobs. They hated seeing their students suffer and regress. However, a landslide majority presented their concerns about contracting the virus. Some teachers are at higher risk of contracting the virus or would suffer severe complications if they did get the virus. Other teachers had family members who were susceptible to the virus as well. Even if children had lower transmission rates, they could still pass the virus on to their teachers.
Forcina voiced concerns about what students would be missing based on the model. “Was there ever a model for a full return to school? What will happen to before and after school programs? Will we have district-wide assessments to make sure students are getting an adequate education?” Forcina believed that staff would be essentially working for free to try to make a “convoluted” plan work. It would be a “herculean” effort for both students and staff to make the current transition plan work. He states that “balancing the needs of everyone will be an unrealistic nightmare.”
Forcina knows that this issue has “polarized” everyone, and understandably so. He acknowledges that no plan exists that would allow students to go back to school full time and guarantee zero risk of infection. There are families that are not comfortable with returning to school, and he knows this. What he wants is for the board to listen to the families that wish to return to school. Quoting a well-known pediatric group, schools should and need to be opened. Families that are uncomfortable should opt for distance learning.
Nancy Chaires Espinoza
Before sharing her comments, Espinoza had questions for the presenters about the transition model.
“Is there an option for timelines to differ by school sites, since some schools have/may have higher rates of transmission?”
It is hard to stagger the schedules because the team hasn’t gotten all of their opinions from parents. Only 58% of parents/students have voiced their opinions. Schools should be starting around the same time unless there is an infection outbreak. In which case, the district and schools affected would follow health guidelines.
“I have concerns about passive versus active screening. Based on the current model, the district would be practicing passive screening. The active screening has been invaluable in catching cases of COVOID-19, even asymptomatic cases. We are missing a critical opportunity to reduce instances of the virus in our community. How did you guys arrive at passive screening instead of active screening?”
The biggest obstacle is the accessibility of thermometers for schools. There is also concern about the time it would take to measure the temperatures of students and staff. Furthermore, there is concern about the liability of school staff along with concerns about privacy and confidentiality.
Espinoza agrees that accessibility of resources is an issue faced by many schools, including EGUSD. While the federal government may believe that schools have these resources, Espinoza states that many schools actually struggle with resources.
“Is there an option for families to stay in the same Cohort? Would families be able to pick starting times for their kids?”
The district would try to keep families in the same cohort. The district would also try to allow families some flexibility, but they cannot honor every single request.
Espinoza believes that transparency is critical and she wants to give rationale on her stance. “The transition plan is not ideal, but it is an improvement to what we could provide in the spring,” she states. “By the time we are done, this will be the best we can offer.” She states that the choices the board makes are based on facts, and she does not want to cater to peer or political pressure. “Sometimes we have information that the general public is not aware of.”
Espinoza acknowledges that infection rates are rising, and there is a strain of the virus that is affecting children. She cautions that while transmission rates of the virus are low for children, that data was collected when distance learning was in place. Such data would change drastically if schools were to fully reopen. Furthermore, Espinoza knows that a significant portion of adults work in schools, and some are more vulnerable to the virus than others. She claims that these people are “not expendable” and should not be put in harm’s way.
Last spring was a nightmare for students, staff, and families, according to Espinoza. Improvements in distance learning were not discussed by the presenters, and she would like to see more work being conducted in that aspect. She knows personally what distance learning is doing to children, as her own son is suffering as well. “I hear your concerns about exposure” and she knows that we are not living in a pre-pandemic world anymore. Long-distance learning should still be a viable option for the next school year. Employees who are also not comfortable working in-person should also have the option of distance teaching.
“Having the option of distance learning is appreciated because some families are not ready to go back,” says Martinez-Alire. Martinez-Alire and other members of the board got the opportunity to tour a classroom set up for social distancing. They even saw what an isolation room would look like. Martinez-Alira knows that these safety precautions are critical. “We know that the data is changing, and we are looking at these updates in real-time.”
Martinez-Alire wants to know how other districts who have opened or partially-opened are doing. “Are the students happier and complying with health guidelines? Have there been new outbreaks?” She acknowledges the difficulties of online learning, and the decision will be hard. The cohort model is the first step to transition.
Speaking of his constitutional duties as a board member, Madison wants to keep our students safe. Madison does not believe that opening the school, especially fully, would be fulfilling his duties as a board member. Speaking in regards to other districts in California that have reopened, he questions whether these board members are truly following their constitutional duties or if they are caving to other pressures.
“Our transition plan is flexible and it is not etched in stone. There are a lot of unknowns that we don’t have. I don’t want people to panic.”
As a prelude to her comments, Singh-Allen stated that the board was not voting. The information that was presented was advice.“ I came to this meeting with an open mind. I heard you, but no matter where we land, there is going to be a group that is going to be upset.” Singh-Allen knows that leadership is hard, but she and the board have to take their responsibility seriously. She knows that everyone’s opinions are different, but she does drop important statistics.
According to the data that was gathered, 63% of teachers wanted the hybrid model. There are teachers who are uncomfortable with teaching in-person, and there are other teachers who want to return to their classroom. The staff preferred either a hybrid model or engaging completely in distance learning.
“We know that parents rely on schools for childcare. We know that children’s mental and social health are at risk. We know students thrive with extracurricular activities. Staff are on the front lines. While students may not be contracting the virus, they can still spread it. We know the adults can still spread it amongst themselves. We were the first school district to close in California. I want to reopen safely and fully, and I want our children to thrive in school. As a mother, my son suffered just like your children. All of his senior activities and sports were gone. We were left with a virtual graduation.”
Many people quoted Dr. Faccui’s stance on reopening schools as part of their support for reopening the district. Singh-Allen cautions that while Dr. Fauccui said this, he also stated that schools should do so while following health guidelines.
Perez believes that there is a “big part” missing in the transition model. He wanted executors to recommend the plan, to which Chris Hoffman replied that experts and directors of the tactical team were the ones who provided the information. Perez wanted to know if Chris Hoffman supported the transition plan, which Hoffman said that the district has to and he supports it. Perez does not believe that experts were brought in for recommendations, even though Hoffman states that this was what the tactical team did. “We save lives and now we want to let loose our students back in the classrooms,” says Perez.
Perez spoke about seniors returning to school to get their diplomas in early summer. He noted that seniors were there with their teachers and they were not wearing masks. Perez ties this behavior with the spike in cases. Beth Albiani quickly chimed in and said that she was there with her son when he picked his diploma. “They were wearing masks, Mr. Perez,” she states. “They were following social distancing and wearing masks.” However, Perez said that they went to Florin High School and other sites and saw students not following protocol.
Additionally, Perez quoted from the Sacramento Bee that cases were spiking in the 95823 zip code. Chet Madison cut in and said that only “a small portion” of that zip code is part of EGUSD.” The majority of that zip code is part of Sacramento Unified, and out of the board’s jurisdiction. Hoffman and Madison stated that Perez needed to stick with the numbers and facts. Madison asks that Perez give a summary of what happened during the meeting instead of asking questions and quoting things that were not brought up in the presentation.
Perez does not believe that the board members and other attending staff would “walk down the halls” of the schools because they have preexisting conditions. He thinks it is unfair to ask students to do the same, especially when they return back to their families. The schools should be shut down until a vaccine is made. “We do not know the science. We need to protect our students, our staff, and our community.”
“Education should be in the 21st century,” quotes Perez. Since the medical industry is able to conduct telehealth conferences, schools should be able to do the same. He wants the board members to think out of the box. “Virtual reality glasses! You could put those on and be around the world with them.” After these comments, Perez was asked if there was anything else he had to say about the plan that was presented.
He does not believe this plan will work even though there are good intentions. It will only spread the infection. Perez says that EGUSD is the most important district in California because there are state of California employees and federal employees. “It turns the whole Western hemisphere, all the way to the Pacific Rim. And we are doing something extremely silly by opening up our schools.”
In addition, Perez asked questions that were previously covered in the presentation. Such questions involved what sort of measures and recommendations were the district using as guidelines, asking how long a quarantine would be if a case is found, and if students would wear masks.
Albiani did not wish to be redundant with her comments, as the meeting was progressing into the early morning hours. She wanted to see more activities and information regarding special needs students and special education. Albiani noticed that many parents preferred to have two full days of instruction instead of two half days. She asked that the staff try to make that work in their schedules. She supports any modifications that would increase seat time for students, but she also wants to follow health and safety guidelines.
“I have three children at home that I would like to send to school. I do think we need more information so we can give parents the full breadth of information so they can make decisions.”
She thinks that for one classroom there should be one teacher who is in the classroom, and another teacher who is set up for long-distance learning.
Albiani is glad that she does not have to worry about children missing out on meals. The department responsible for keeping children fed has been doing an excellent job.
“There is room for wiggles and for change,” she said in closing.
Again, the Board of Education has not decided on anything. The June 30th meeting was to discuss options and to view what a transitional model would look like. The board acknowledges that anything could change, and they need to be prepared for any situation.
EGUSD’s Transition To Improved Educational Services For All Students Slides: D_XIV_1_PhaseIIPresentationREV6292020_0 (1)