Clovis Unified high schoolers should stay on distance learning for the remainder of the semester so as not to jeopardize their grade-point average — even if the district gets the OK to resume in-person instruction during the coronavirus pandemic.
That advice from district employees to keep high schoolers on distance learning for the semester came during Wednesday night’s board meeting as trustees were considering seeking a waiver from the Fresno County Department of Public Health to reopen elementary schools.
After hours of discussion, the board voted unanimously to submit a waiver application to the county health officer. Such waivers are required because Fresno County is still in most restrictive (purple) tier of the state’s reopening plan because of its coronavirus cases and infection rates.
Keeping students on distance learning would be a 180-degree turn for the district which, after schools were closed statewide to control the COVID-19 outbreak last spring, continued to set new deadlines to reopen schools before the end of the year, and also expressed determination to reopen schools in August.
The district’s plans were overtaken by restrictions put in place by county and state officials to keep schools closed in counties like Fresno where COVID-19 infection rates remained high.
Academics Could Be Disrupted
Buchanan High principal Joe Aiello and Clovis North English teacher Sally Howe told trustees that high schoolers have now established a distance learning rhythm and are on track in their studies.
They said it would be disruptive academically for high schoolers to return to school, where they would have to become acclimated to a new learning environment that would include following health and safety rules such as face masks and social distancing at a critical point of the semester.
That disruption could affect their grades that will appear on transcripts that colleges will review for admissions purposes.
The return to school will not be back to “normal,” Aiello said. Students will need to remain 6 feet apart, so class sizes will need to be no larger than 16 students because of the classroom square footage.
The district is considering hybrid schedules to limit the number of students on campuses.
Keeping Schools Sanitized
Students also will lose in-person instructional time because schools will need to schedule time to sanitize classrooms between classes, he said.
Officials said the district will need time to develop a master schedule to accommodate the students who want to return to school, those who want to remain on distance learning, and having enough staff to cover all of it.
Trustee Ginny Hovsepian said the presentation by district administrators, including a detailed timeline, helped clarify the amount of work that needs to be done before in-person instruction can resume.
“And now I understand why it’s going to take so long,” she said. “We’re not going open Monday, as much as we would want to.”
“And this is, honestly, the tightest we could make the timeline” superintendent Eimear O’Farrell said.
Teachers: Schools Need to Reopen
But several elementary school teachers and one middle school teacher told the trustees during the meeting that schools need to reopen sooner than later because children in lower grades are being hurt academically and psychologically by distance learning.
Karyn Schiebelhut, a second grade teachers at Riverview Elementary School and mother of an 11-year-old and 16-year-old, said keeping schools closed is sending the wrong message to students about facing their fears, and she blamed some of her fellow teachers who have expressed concern for their own health if schools reopen too soon.
“Teachers who are afraid of getting sick are sacrificing the physical, emotional, mental well-being of our kids in our community,” she said. “Kids aren’t getting their education… They are learning to stay home and hide if they get scared of something. What are we teaching our kids. What are they going to do in our future every time they get scared?”
Distance Learning Limits Relationships
Schiebelhut also said that teachers can’t build relationships with students through distance learning, including giving them a hug or tapping on their desk to draw their attention.
Aiello noted later in the meeting that even after schools reopen for in-person instructions, teachers will need to keep a 6-foot distance and will be unable to interact in that way with students.
However, once schools do reopen for in-person instruction, students will be able to again participate in the many activities, such as History Day, he said.
Spike In Cases After Oct. 1?
Fresno County’s top health official has forecast that the county is on the road to meeting state metrics and that schools could begin reopening by mid-October. But Trustee Steven Fogg said he’s concerned about recent rallies by business owners and others who are setting their own opening date of Oct. 1, rejecting the state mandate for closures.
“I see a spike (in coronavirus cases) from that,” he said.
Once schools meet the state metrics and can reopen, higher rates of infection will not prompt closures again, O’Farrell told trustees. State officials do not want a disruptive “yo-yoing” of openings and closures, she said.