The Covid-19 pandemic has changed modern education in a way never before experience.
For most schools in the state of California, getting students back to “normal” is a task not easily accomplished, officials said.
Local school districts, particularly larger districts like Colusa Unified, are facing challenging new guidelines, such as smaller classrooms of 14 maximum students, and ongoing COVID-19 testing for all students and teachers.
But CUSD officials believe getting younger students back to school for at least some in-person instruction is critical to their educational achievement and overall wellbeing.
CUSD Superintendent Jeff Turner and School Board President Melissa Yerxa Ortiz announced Monday that the district is working to secure a waiver from the Colusa County Department of Public Health to gradually get all K-6 students back in the classroom, at least for a few days each week.
“Members of the Colusa school district team have been working very long and hard to put the puzzle pieces in place that will allow us to get our students back on campus,” Turner said, in a video posted to the district’s website. “A great deal of those pieces are already in place.”
CUSD anticipates all special education students (K-12) to return to school on Monday, followed by students who need additional support, including English Language Learners and foster youth.
The district hopes to have all K-6 in a new blended learning model by mid-October, which would allow students to have a combination of in-person and online instruction.
Students with internet connectivity issues will also soon return to campus, Turner said.
Officials recognize there are still hurdles school districts must overcome.
Colusa County Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Kelly said last week that Public Health Officer Dr. Gregory Burt will approve waivers for any of the local K-6 districts that meet the guidelines, but that some districts are still struggling to get their parents groups or teachers union on board.
“Without that support, they can’t submit a waiver application,” Kelly said. “It’s very challenging.”
At Monday’s school board meeting, Colusa teacher Jennifer Rogowski said teachers do want to be back in the classroom, but only if it can be done safely.
Rogowski said distance learning has been challenging, but she believes that a blended model could be more difficult, unless the district and teachers come together to launch a well thought out plan.
“As we move into having some students on campus and some students at home, I think we will find we will be facing more challenges,” Regowski said. “I think it is important that we do so collaboratively.”
As Colusa Unified continues this week to work with the teachers on the reopening plan, Turner said it is very important for parents to participate in the district’s survey so school officials know which students might return to the blended learning model and which students will remain at home in a distance learning model. Parents also have the choice of enrolling their children in the home school program.
“We need to make everyone comfortable,” Tuner said.
Ortiz said the school has made great effort to improve the distance learning model from what it was at the end of the last school year, but that it should not replace in-person instruction for very long.
“We can all agree that it is an emergency short term fix and not a long-term plan,” she said.
Ortiz said this was the first time in history that she could remember where parents have multiple choices to do what they think is best for their child or children.
“There is no judgement,” Ortiz said. “It’s just (that) you are where you are, and we have to honor that and find a way forward to help these kids.”
Turner said once parents decide if their child or children will participate in distance, blended, or home school, students should remain in the model chosen in order for the district to make the multiple programs work – and for the best educational results.
Turner said the eventual opening of 7-12 grades will be dependent on Colusa County having a reduced number of daily Covid-19 cases and low positivity rate.
The school reopening survey is available on the district’s website or available at the district office. All parents, including those with 7-12 students are encouraged to respond so the district can move forward with plans to eventually reopen all campuses. ♣