If parents want their kids to attend Fresno Unified School District’s online school for the new school year, they will need to opt in by July 31, Superintendent Bob Nelson said Thursday.
Parents who don’t reserve a seat for their kids for the eLearn Academy online school will presumably be choosing on-campus classes, he told reporters during an online news conference.
The district has sign-up forms in English, Spanish, and Hmong on its website. Parents who are unable to access the website can call the district’s call center at (559) 457-3395.
Schools Need to Follow Health Guidelines
But the Fresno Teachers Association contends that the district still hasn’t provided enough detail for parents to make informed choices. The FTA has scheduled a community meeting for 3 p.m. Tuesday on Zoom for teachers and parents to talk about the start of the school year, distance learning, and parent-student supports.
“Our position on this matter is clear; if schools can’t safely reopen based on CDC and other health guidelines, then education should continue through distance learning,” the union said in a statement released Thursday afternoon after the Fresno Unified news conference.
But Nelson said that while the district will do everything possible to make schools as safe as possible — including requiring face masks, physical distancing, one-way signage, and daily health checks — there is no way to guarantee total safety.
Nelson said he was not trying to develop a “COVID-19-impervious solution.”
“Families have to mitigate the risk,” he said. “If you don’t think it’s safe, keep your kids out.”
Planning for Staffing
The July 31 deadline will give Fresno Unified time to plan for how many students will be instructed online versus in classrooms and assign teachers and staff accordingly, Nelson said.
Right now the district is aiming for an Aug. 17 start date, but that could change depending on local COVID-19 infection rates. The district plans another update on the fall semester on July 17.
Although the district’s survey last month of parents showed that three-fourths want their kids back at school, the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Fresno County may cause some to change their minds, Nelson said.
He was asked how the district will alert parents to the online school sign-up, since only about 10,000 responded to the June survey. Fresno Unified will use traditional news media, social media, call banks, and other means for outreach, Nelson said.
He said that although the survey did not get responses from the majority of parents, there were enough to be statistically valid.
Distance Learning Could Return
Fresno Unified, like most districts in the Valley, closed its schools in mid-March in an effort to slow the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.
Students and their teachers shifted to distance learning, but the district labeled it optional because not all students initially had access to laptops or tablets and the internet. In addition, teachers needed preparation to provide a new mode of instruction.
Fresno Unified is not proposing hybrid schedules as some districts have done to provide physical distancing between students.
The district assumes that some parents will opt to keep their children home, thus freeing up space in the school so that students and teachers can be further apart, Nelson said.
If an outbreak in a classroom or school forces a closure, students would return to distance learning. But unlike the last eight weeks of the school year, when schools abruptly closed and the district shifted to distance learning, it won’t be optional, he said.
The district will make sure students have access to devices, teachers have the training and support they need, attendance will be taken, and students will be expected to learn, Nelson said.