CALEXICO — Calexico students and educators will soon be resuming morning classes remotely as the threat of the coronavirus pandemic persists past summer vacation.
“Part of the message we’ve sent out is we all need to be flexible,” said Carlos R. Gonzales, Calexico Unified School District superintendent. “We all need to be very patient because this is going to be the hardest reopening that any of us have ever been through, and yes, we have a plan, but that plan is fluid.”
Some local parents had hoped the Calexico Unified School District would begin classes with students on campus. However, due to high rates of COVID infections in Imperial County, all schools districts will be starting the fall with distance learning in place as mandated by the state, Gonzales explained.
“The safety and health of all of our students and staff is the priority,” he said. “We are starting off the year online only at this point.”
The first day of classes for Calexico Unified schools is Aug. 24.
Imperial County was among the California counties on the state’s monitoring list ordered by Gov. Gavin Newsom to continue with distance learning until the county has been removed from the list for a period of 14 consecutive days. At that time, schools will be permitted to provide in-person instruction subject to comprehensive guidance and health and safety requirements, stated Dr. Stephen Munday, Imperial County Public Health officer, and Todd Finnell, Imperial County Superintendent of Schools, in a joint statement released mid-July.
“To begin, it will be online, working closely with the public health department, and then moving more into a hybrid model after that,” Gonzales said.
Although an abrupt form of distance learning was implemented in late March for the spring school year, the upcoming fall session is expected to differ for many schools given specific guidelines and expectations issued by the state on how schools operate their distance learning, he explained.
In accordance with the state, a minimum amount of instructional time for different grade levels has been directed, with three hours instructed for transitional kindergarten and kindergarten, three hours and 50 minutes advised for grades first through third, and four hours expected for all other grades.
In preparation of distance learning, Gonzales also acknowledged that CUSD “invested heavily as a district,” with the approval of the district’s board members, to become a one-to-one district for the 2020-21 school year. One-to-one is a term applied to districts with programs that provide all students with their own laptop, netbook, tablet computer, or other mobile-computing device.
“All of our students will have iPads or they will have MacBooks,” explained Gonzales. “This is from kindergarten all the way to 12th grade.”
Although a definitive school schedule has not yet been finalized by CUSD, several subcommittees throughout the district have spent much of the summer preparing the community for the upcoming school year to ensure each student not only has the technology, but the connectivity for the fall session.
“Now being in the pandemic, it lends itself perfectly because our students actually have the resources and equipment,” Gonzales said. “We may not have all the answers at this point, but at least we can give them as much direction and guidance as possible so that they themselves don’t feel anxious in regards to what it will look like for the first day of school.”
In contrast from March, which saw the state provide schools with very few parameters, this fall session will require schools to keep students actively engaged in their education while ensuring they monitor student attendance during live interactive lessons and through the completion of homework in order to receive state funding for the upcoming school year.
In the hopes of maintaining such communication, Gonzales will be hosting a Cafecito with the Superintendent event, from 5 to 6 p.m. Aug. 7 and another event for Spanish-speakers from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. that same evening. The community will also be receiving a FAQ sheet in the coming days detailing answers to several community members’ concerns.
“We try to find as many avenues as possible to send out information,” Gonzales said. “That’s been key.”
Following similar models, Imperial Unified School District has also informed its community that attendance and performance in individual online courses will be factored in their students’ requirements, according to the district’s Instructional Distance Learning Plan.
“The methods for receiving information, submitting documents and receiving instruction may be different, but expectations for school will remain consistent with what students would normally be expected to achieve,” the district stated in a FAQ sheet sent to the Imperial community. The first day of school for Imperial Unified schools is Aug. 17.
Likewise, the Central Union High School District will be conducting daily live classes between students and teachers while distance learning, explained Ward Andrus, superintendent for the Central Union district.
“Unlike the fourth quarter of the 2019-2020 school year, moving forward we will have a daily class schedule to follow for all our ‘daily live interaction’ as required by the new state laws,” noted Andrus.
Similar to Calexico schools, Central’s district will also have to take and report daily attendance and participation in the daily activities, Andrus confirmed.
“Schools are developing plans to follow up with those that are not participating regularly,” he stated. “We are working to re-establish the daily routine of learning.”
The first day of school for Central Union High School District is Aug. 10 for Southwest and Central Union high schools. The first day for El Centro Elementary School District schools is Aug. 24.
Although a majority of local school districts are preparing their students and parents for the first ever online-only first day of school, they are also planning a head for how a transition back into the classrooms might look.
Unfortunately, those plans are tentative and will likely change throughout the course of the fall session as districts work with local public health officials to best protect their community during the ongoing pandemic.
Additionally, district superintendents can only apply for a waiver from the local health officer to open elementary schools between the grades of transitional kindergarten up to sixth grade for in-person instruction in a county on the monitoring list, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Such applications do have requirements that districts must follow in order to be eligible for review by the local health officer. According to a recent press release by the public health department, health officers should consult with the department regarding their determination.
They may conditionally grant an application with limits on the number of elementary schools allowed to re-open or allow re-opening in phases to monitor for any impact on the community, according to the release. For more information on the waiver process visit California Department of Public Health website.