How Inland Empire schools plan to reopen in the coronavirus era

How Inland Empire schools plan to reopen in the coronavirus era

With the Monday, June 8, release of California Department of Education guidelines for reopening public schools this fall, Inland Empire school districts are busy planning what the 2020-21 school year will look like in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic.

The guidelines suggest that school districts continue offering students the ability to learn from home, as they did in spring, after schools closed suddenly. But the non-binding guidelines also acknowledge that doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, including special education students, English language learner students, families without a computer at home or parents who cannot work at home and stay with their young children.

But, with only about two months until the start of the new school year, some Inland Empire districts weren’t waiting on state recommendations — and some intend to go their own way entirely.

“Our preference, of course, would be a complete return to normal school operations,” Upland Unified Superintendent Nancy Kelly wrote in a Tuesday, June 2, letter to families. “At this point, it is too early to tell if normal operations are a reasonable option given that even those businesses that have reopened are doing so in a very different way. Social distancing, masks and protective shields might work in a restaurant or supermarket, but presumably would require an even higher level of sophistication and implementation in a classroom of young students.”

The district is looking at having at least some students continue to learn from home or a hybrid of at-home and in-school learning, which the Department of Education guidelines strongly lean toward.

But in Riverside County, one district already has its path largely mapped out.

“We are doing everything possible to get our kids back in school,” Temecula Valley Unified School District Deputy Superintendent Jodi McClay said in a video posted Thursday, June 4. “Our goal is to get as close to our previous normal as possible.”

McClay called ideas such as having teachers teaching from behind a barrier, students remaining 6 feet apart all day or having students eat or play alone “unreasonable.”

“These strategies do not result in positive learning environments,” she said. “It is not reasonable to expect children to adhere to a 6-foot distance rule all day when even adults at the grocery store struggle with it.”

Details on the new school year, which begins Aug. 12, are still being worked out. But McClay said more cleaning will be done on campus and more handwashing opportunities will be available. And online learning will be available for families who do not wish their students to learn on campus next school year.

“It’s time to get back to our business of teaching and learning at TVUSD,” McClay concluded.

Similarly, the Bear Valley Unified School District, which operates seven schools in and around the city of Big Bear Lake, has announced that, when the new school year begins Aug. 1, students will be in regular classrooms, taught by a teacher, much like they were at the beginning of the previous school year. But there will be a few changes.

“Although we will not be able to provide six feet of physical distancing due to space limitations in classrooms, we will place desks and tables as far apart as possible, facing students forward in class,” a June 4 letter sent to families and staff reads in part.

Staff and students will be provided protective masks or face shields, and will be expected to wear them in the hallways and on the bus, but not during class. Details about physical education class, sports, extracurricular activities, sanitation and health monitoring are still being worked out.

Families who are uncomfortable sending their students back to school in this fashion, Superintendent Mary Suzuki wrote in the letter, can have their children continue to do distance learning through the district’s Bear Valley Virtual Academy.

The decision to reopen in this fashion, Suzuki wrote, was based on community feedback.

Other districts are busy collecting community input as well, with the Chaffey Joint Union High School District, Ontario-Montclair School District, Riverside Unified School District, San Bernardino City Unified School District, Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District and others surveying families about whether they want their children to attend traditional classes, continue with distance learning or do a hybrid of the two. Districts are also asking about families’ ability to receive instruction at home.

Redlands and Riverside Unified school districts recently finished collecting community input on the issue, but have not announced finalized plans.

Staff writer Brooke Staggs contributed to this report.

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