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The Cloverdale Unified School District partially solidified its reopening plans last week, approving a plan that involves the district starting the school year in distance learning — something it has to do, since the county is still on the state coronavirus watchlist. The plan, which the district board of trustees agreed would be a living document that’s subject to change, also outlines some new requirements for how distance learning will be conducted and lists potential schedules for both distance learning and hybrid learning (should the district eventually be able to move to a hybrid model, if the county’s comes off the watchlist and remains off for 14 days). 

The draft reopening plan was approved in a 4-1 board vote, with Trustee Todd Lands dissenting because he disagreed with the reopening plan stating that the district would reevaluate on Sept. 25 whether or not to move to a hybrid model of learning beginning Oct. 19.

Though the Sept. 25 re-evaluation date is still subject to change, Lands said that he felt the two-week period between when the district plans to reassess the learning model and when they would transition to a hybrid model is too long. 

“These children need to be in the classroom as much as possible,” he said. “I think we should be pushing these numbers — not (having) two weeks in between the changes and not waiting until the end of the quarter to even have the change of moving to hybrid (learning).”

According to Superintendent Betha MacClain, a set date was put in the plan to give teachers, staff and families a more concrete timeline, as well as give the district time to develop classroom routines, should the district have to move in and out of distance learning throughout the next year. She said that, barring a dramatic improvement in the county’s coronavirus conditions, she expects that the district will wait until Sept. 25 to discuss whether or not to move to a hybrid model of learning. Should the district decide to move to a hybrid learning model on Sept. 25, students would begin hybrid learning on Oct. 19.

The district plan presented last week is a 46-page document that will likely get larger as the district continues to discuss aspects of the upcoming school year, MacClain said. The plan was born out of a two-week planning process where tens of community members met in committees to go over different aspects of reopening. 

“There are some things that we know we’ll get more detailed about and will develop even further, including elements like community resources for families,” she said. 

While a switch to hybrid learning is largely dependent on county coronavirus statistics — the county must be off of the state’s watchlist for two weeks before schools are allowed to switch to a hybrid model — one of the largest points of discussion during the meeting had to do with how to prioritize learning methods. While some parents and students have stressed the negative impacts that distance learning has on families' lives and student mental health, teachers and district staff have expressed concern over returning to the classroom. During a board meeting in the beginning of July, one teacher shared that during a survey by the Teachers Association of Cloverdale 30% of those who responded would be unable to return to the classroom due to either theirs or a family member’s underlying health conditions and an additional 31% felt uncomfortable returning to the classroom for in-person teaching. 

Teachers in the district have also noted that, even once the district adopts a hybrid learning model, school won’t be the same due to social distancing guidelines — students won’t be able to participate in group activities, hands-on activities, science experiments, they won’t be able to use classroom resources and teachers won’t be able to sit next to students to provide one-on-one help. 

The reality of what will still be different in hybrid learning doesn't lessen the blow to families who rely on students being in school during work hours, though.

“I’m a single mom, I have a full-time job and a part time job, but I can’t afford to hire a babysitter to come and take care of my kids and make sure they’re logging in at specific times,” said Ashley White, a parent with two kids at Jefferson. “At the end of the last school year they were going to work with me, and I was juggling working and being their teacher … it’s just not feasible to me.”

White asked if the district has any plans in place to help families who may be in similar situations. While MacClain noted that the district is currently talking with the Boys and Girls Club about providing care and support for distance learning, the club’s capacity is limited due to virus-related restrictions and care from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. is $225 a week (the club’s website notes that scholarships and subsidies are available). 

Parts of the plan

Following the spring semester, the state passed new rules for distance learning, governing things like attendance, grading, instructional time, required teacher-student interactions and academic rigour. The new plan for the district’s distance learning includes these more rigid guidelines for instruction, which will utilize both live videos between student groups and teachers and non-live instruction assignments. In an interview with the Reveille before the meeting, MacClain said that some teachers have had their students break into groups over video to participate in group work, something MacClain feels is one of the benefits of conducting class at a distance.

“We want to make sure that the program overall is rigorous and that students are learning what they would be learning in a more traditional school year. We want to make sure that students who need support get those supports. We really heard in the survey that parents are willing to support their students but they need to know more about not only distance learning, but also curriculum. We’ve discussed ways that we can integrate that especially into the start of the school year.”

“Students must have daily contact with teachers and interactions with classmates — that could be synchronous, which means live through Zoom or by phone or some other live method or even through chat, and asynchronous meaning they’re working independently and work is being directed by the teacher and revisited as a whole group,” MacClain continued. “It has to be high-quality and there has to be accountability — the state has made this very clear — it’s not only for attendance, it’s also for completion of work and engagement regardless of the model that we’re using.”

As part of the draft reopening plan, the district put forth a series of sample schedules that students can use to help them develop a routine while learning at home. 

“We know that that’s important for everybody’s mental health and that the lack of structure this spring was very hard on families and students,” she said. 

One change outlined in the plan is the paring down of different platforms used by school sites. In the district survey filled out by parents, a high volume of responses indicated that communication to families during the spring was too spread out across platforms, resulting in confusion. 

For young students MacClain said that the district will be using ClassDojo, for students in third grade and up they will use Google Classroom and Aries, ClassDojo and Google Classroom will be used for communication. She also noted that instead of receiving communication from the district and from teachers at multiple points throughout the day, communication will be collected and consolidated. 

Meal planning

According to Chief Business Official Patricia Mills, the district will be providing meals to students during distance learning this fall. During distance learning, food will be given out at Jefferson Elementary and Washington School. 

Meal distribution will be different than how it was during summer, Mills said, since the state is now implementing its free and reduced meals program. Under the new plan, students who aren't on a free or reduced meal plan will have to purchase a meal.

Mills said that during distance learning, the district is planning on a Monday/Wednesday distribution schedule.

Once the district moves to a hybrid model, the meal distribution will move to daily distribution and will be done at all school sites.

Next steps

MacClain said that in the immediate future, the district is focused on strengthening its distance learning program. As time goes on, the district will work to develop a more concrete hybrid learning plan, as well as solidify what the transition between distance learning and hybrid learning will look like. 

In the coming weeks, individual school sites will also be hammering out individual plans that may vary between school sites.

When it comes to hybrid learning, the district is currently looking at going to a schedule where one cohort would meet in-person on Monday and Tuesday, and another cohort would meet on Thursday and Friday. This staggered schedule would allow the district to spend Wednesday cleaning. On weeks where there’s a Monday holiday, MacClain said that students would then meet Tuesday and Wednesday, and Thursday and Friday. 

As the school year gets underway, MacClain said that the district will reach out to parents again with a survey about how they feel about instruction potentially moving to a hybrid model.

“We don’t want to surprise people and we want to make sure people have time before we pivot, especially the first time, from one model to another,” MacClain said. 

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