Future is contingent on the county’s virus statistics
The board of the Cloverdale Unified School District (CUSD) voiced support for setting its new projected hybrid learning reopening date for the beginning of January this week.
While the board made it clear during the meeting that they disagree with the restrictions to reopening being imposed by the state on school districts in high-transmission virus tiers, the decision to push off its projected reopening date was made to allow parents time to sufficiently plan, and because of the low likelihood that students would be allowed to return to the classroom sooner.
“We cannot reopen until we move into the red tier and then once you move into the red tier you have to wait several weeks to determine that you’re going to stay in the red tier. At this point, the soonest possible return date for Cloverdale Unified would be Dec. 1,” said Superintendent Betha MacClain.
Prior to the meeting, the district had established Nov. 5 as a possible reopening date.
While the county’s coronavirus statistics had been declining, they’ve been steadily on the rise over the past week. To get out of the purple tier, the county must have seven or less new virus cases per day per 100,000 people, as well as a testing positivity rate of 8% or less. As of Oct. 15, the county’s testing positivity percentage is 5% and its new cases per 100,000 people is at 13.7.
Between now and the special meeting that the district has planned for the end of October to discuss distance learning, MacClain said that individual school site groups will be meeting to evaluate how continued distance learning will look, since once it starts hybrid learning the district will still be accommodating families who don’t want their students to return to any form of in-person learning.
“The issue of continued distance learning needs to be designed and resolved at the individual school site level because of the needs of each group. With the different schedule demands, it really needs to be designed to meet the elementary needs, the middle school needs and the high school needs,” she said, noting that what’s discussed for distance learning at the individual site level will be presented to the board of trustees at its next scheduled meeting.
Following the late October meeting, the district is hoping to send out a survey to families asking them which learning model they want to choose — either continued distance learning or hybrid learning — so that it can get a clearer sense of hybrid versus at-home learning numbers.
“The recommendation that I’m making and presenting to the board, not for action but for discussion, is the recommendation that we move our reopening date based on that Dec. 1 reopening possibility,” she said, adding that it wouldn’t make sense to have students come for in-person learning for three weeks only to close for winter break.
In the interim, the district plans to prepare for hybrid learning by first bringing back small groups of students with specific needs such as special education, English learners and students who are at risk of not graduating. The district will also be working in November and December on modifying classrooms to adhere to safety standards that need to be met once hybrid learning begins (plexiglass partitions, air purifiers, etc.).
“I’m suggesting that we notify the community now of a modified reopening plan, so the community can plan, staff can plan and teachers can plan,” MacClain said.
In response to community concern about students’ mental health while on extended distance learning, the superintendent encouraged people to reach out to the school staff if they’re concerned about a student. From there, the sites can work on addressing and fielding the specific concerns by making referrals and gathering resources for the students. In addition, MacClain said that the district may work on establishing a program where students can meet in-person with
“I think it’s good that we are moving forward. We have a plan in place. We’re moving forward, we’re not just moving around and making decisions. These kids are going to get whatever we are allowed to do by the county and the state at that date,” Trustee Todd Lands said. “Coming back for three weeks after Thanksgiving would not be beneficial — it would just be chaotic.”
With the decision to stave off hybrid learning until January, Cloverdale is also aligning itself with neighboring Sonoma County districts, such as Healdsburg, that have made the same decision.
“We’ve had a lot of wins. Even though this isn’t a perfect situation and we’re really anxious to get students back into classrooms,” MacClain said. “I want to highlight some of the things that we’ve gotten off of the ground and the ways that staff are really trying to create opportunities for students to connect and engage with school beyond just the classroom.”
Included in the list of district wins is last week’s start to athletic conditioning, opening the district’s new track for conditioning use, district tennis courts being reopened, school staff have been making home visits to students, student activity clubs are getting back into the swing of things and the district’s counseling staff is in the midst of developing a district wellness site.
Around Nov. 2, the district is also expecting to have small cohorts of students with special needs returning to campus.