CJ Paschal is getting twice as much in-school time as many other Fresno Unified kindergartners — but his parents are paying extra for it.
Since January CJ has been attending the kindergarten afternoon enrichment program at Fairmont Private School, where he plays on the playground, digs in the garden, reads books, and has in-person instruction time with teachers.
On Wednesday, his mom Jennifer reported, CJ lost his first tooth while playing on the monkey bars.
Up until April 8, CJ’s only in-person instruction was at Fairmont. But on that day, the 5-year-old joined his kindergarten classmates in their classroom at Bullard TALENT, a K-8 magnet school a few blocks away from Fairmont.
Following the district’s hybrid instruction schedule, CJ and his classmates have in-person classes Thursdays and Fridays and have class online on other weekdays.
Jennifer Paschal said she would have signed him up for Fairmont’s morning kindergarten class if there had been space available for him, even if that would have meant giving up his slot at the central Fresno magnet school that his two older sisters have attended since they were kindergartners.
When it became clear by January that in-person instruction wasn’t happening anytime soon for CJ and other Fresno Unified students, Paschal said she had to get creative and look for alternatives.
What’s frustrating parents, she said, is having to pay for private school when nearby school districts such as Clovis Unified are providing in-person instruction four days a week now for many students. If schools aren’t reopened fulltime by next fall, “I’ll move to Clovis Unified if I have to,” she said.
Governor Urges Schools to Reopen
The voices of Paschal and other parents are apparently being heard by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who stood Wednesday on the playground of a Sonoma County elementary school and talked about the billions of dollars that the state and federal governments have been providing school districts for additional educational resources, testing, and other needs so that schools may reopen.
Teachers and child care workers were moved to the head of the vaccination line to provide them protection from the coronavirus, Newsom said.
As the number of vaccinated people statewide continues to increase, and if the state’s positivity rate remains low, he said he doesn’t foresee any reason why schools would not fully reopen for the start of the 2021-22 school year.
Newsom acknowledged that local school districts are in charge of decisions about reopening and scheduling, and he sidestepped a reporter’s question about whether the state could order schools to reopen.
“Mandates are often not looked upon as favorably as you would like to think,” he said. “That said, we anticipate and expect our kids back safely and in-person instruction this fall and you’ll be hearing more about that in the upcoming weeks and months.”
‘Rice and Beans’
Jennifer Paschal said she decided to enroll CJ at Fairmont because she worried about him missing the social interactions students have at school that online instruction can’t provide. Learning how to interact with teachers and peers and having hands-on experiences are just as important as learning ABCs and 2+2s, she said.
CJ’s tuition puts a dent in the family budget but it’s worth it, she said. But Paschal acknowledged that’s not the case for all families, especially where parents have lost jobs due to the pandemic.
And she said she was determined to expand CJ’s in-person schooling time, “even if we had to live on rice and beans.”
Paschal said she and other parents have been frustrated by inconsistencies across the state, where some private schools have been open to in-person instruction since August, some public districts are fully open now, while others are still limiting the amount of in-person class time.
Don’t Limit Parents’ Options
She knows that not all families are ready for in-person instruction, and they should continue to have an online option. But their hesitancy should not limit her children’s access to in-person education, Paschal said.
“It should be an option for some kids, but you took my kids’ options away,” she said.
Paschal said she works evenings and her husband works days, so they’ve been able to juggle the online learning schedule that included being CJ’s kindergarten aide.
But so many parents work during the daytime and find it difficult, if not impossible, to get their kids to and from school on the hybrid twice-weekly schedule.
It’s time, Paschal said, for those kids whose parents want them in school full-time to have that option.