First day of school

The first day of school this fall will look quite different from years past, as hybrid learning models, social distancing and face masks become the norm. Photo Tribune archives

Students may get staggered days of in-class and distance learning

The Healdsburg Unified School District (HUSD) is working on plans for reopening schools this fall, and while planning is still in the early stages, HUSD Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel said it’s safe to say that the district will reopen with a hybrid model. This model is likely to be one where students attend class two days a week and receive supplemental distance learning throughout the rest of the week. 

Depending on what state funding will look like, the district is also considering the possibility of having five days a week of in-class learning for K-3 only with no more than 15 students per classroom.

Vanden Heuvel said the plan would still have to be negotiated with the Healdsburg Area Teachers Association (HATA) and approved by the school board.

“We are very busy, the district and administration and a lot of teachers are working around the clock to come up with plans for reopening,” Vanden Heuvel said. “We are getting closer in the process. Today we had our first negotiations session with HATA. It was productive and we were able to list out some concerns that we all have and things that we need to work through.”

While there are still some unknowns about the return to school, Vanden Heuvel said what they know for sure is that students and staff will be masked and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as hand sanitizer and face shields will be available.

“PPE is a lot easier to get now — we have been stockpiling it — and the state is actually buying the first 60 days worth of PPE for schools around the state. We feel really good about having masks and face guards and hand sanitizer and things like that, on hand,” Vanden Heuvel said.

In addition to using PPE, students will be screened when they come to school, potentially with infrared thermometers and/or temperature scanners. The district will also ask parents to help with screening in the form of checking for symptoms every day and not sending students to school when there are questionable symptoms present. 

“Staff will be doing the same thing,” Vanden Heuvel said of symptom screening. They’ll also plan on implementing a handwashing campaign for the younger and older grades.

In addition to these safety measures, the district will also practice frequent cleaning of high touch surfaces throughout the day, disinfect classrooms daily and stagger recess time with no playground equipment access.

With the possibility of only having in-class instruction two days a week, Vanden Heuvel said the district does recognize that loss of learning is a concern for all grade levels.

“We cannot replicate a normal school environment — five days a week with your teacher — in a distance environment, it’s just not possible,” he said. 

According to Vanden Heuvel the district is attempting to find a way where they could potentially have five days a week of in-class learning for K-2 and maybe even third grade students.

“We are really on the cusp with class size numbers and being able to do that and still maintain social distancing and so it will require some investment and some more teaching staff, but we think we’re on the brink of it. At this point, we are waiting for the state budget to be approved. All indications are positive around that as it would affect opening K-3 every day of the week.” he said.

He said he’s hopeful, but it’s not a guarantee that this will be implemented. 

“Things can change, but if we do (see students in person) it needs to start in those foundational years in my opinion,” he said, adding they should know more about the state budget and funding by early next week.  

School board Trustee Jami Kiff asked why five-day a week instruction is only being considered for grades K-3. Vanden Heuvel said it's in part due to finances, resources and the six-foot social distancing rule.

“There are guidelines from the state and the county that come from both educational and health officials and all of the guidelines at this junction recommend us maintaining six feet of social distance. I for one, am not willing to go against six feet and county guidelines. The guidelines right now are to maintain six feet of social distance in classrooms and that precludes us from having more than 15 students safely at six feet in each classroom… We’re working with the union on that to agree on a number,” he said.

Having enough teachers for each class is also a contributing factor.

“At elementary, partially because we are a community-funded district and we’re in better shape financially than others and we haven’t had transfer students, we’re really close to 15,” he said, noting that for kindergarten, first and possibly third grade, they’d need one more teacher. He said they’d need two or three more teachers for the upper grades. “It just becomes a financial issue, we’d be in millions of dollars that we don’t have to be able to pull it off district-wide.”   

Trustee Judy Velasquez said she appreciates that the district is looking at trying to have instruction five days a week for the younger elementary grades.

In the coming days, the district hopes to organize a virtual focus group on reopening for parents. They also hope to come out with a reopening guide.

The next HUSD school board meeting takes place Aug. 19. To keep up to date on district plans and school, visit their website at https://healdsburgusd-ca.schoolloop.com/.

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