At the school board’s regular meeting on July 30, West Side School Principal and West Side Union School District Superintendent Kris Menlove revealed the district’s distance learning plans for the 2020-21 school year, stating that distance learning will look quite different this fall and will have a more rigorous program than what was implemented last year.
During the meeting, the board of trustees approved Menlove’s recommendation to start the school year in distance learning. Approval or not, guidance from Gov. Gavin Newsom states that schools — both public, private and charter — that reside in a county that is on the state’s coronavirus watchlist must start the year in distance learning.
Sonoma County was placed on the state watchlist on July 13 and schools must remain in distance learning until the county has been off of the list for 14 consecutive days.
While school districts do have the option of applying for a waiver to reopen — according to Sonoma County Superintendent Steve Herrington, 11 Sonoma County schools have notified the Sonoma County Office of Education of their intent to file a waiver — Menlove said they will not be applying for a waiver at this time due to safety concerns.
With that said, it will be vital to have a robust distance learning program in place for the start of the school year for the K-6 school.
“What we are doing in the fall is much different than what we had in the spring,” Menlove said.
Distance learning will be structured similar to a regular school day so students can receive a well-rounded course of instruction. Students will have virtual daily live interactions and check-ins with teachers as well as individual assignments and student participation and progress will be monitored through live check-ins and synchronous instructional minutes.
Adapted lessons and check-ins will be provided for English language learners and special education students.
“The state of California has said that it needs to be just as rigorous as if they (students) were in a school day,” Menlove said.
To that end, the school will also be providing an at-home learning kit with learning materials and school supplies for families, and families will be surveyed so that West Side can determine what student’s technology needs are in terms of tech devices and internet access.
“Because we are a rural school and we know families who live in rural areas struggle with connectivity, West Side received 100 new Chromebooks and so we are excited to have those and it will be instrumental in making sure we have enough devices at home,” Menlove said.
Menlove noted that after school care will not be available during distance learning.
“The afterschool program will not run during distance learning, but it will be provided during the hybrid model,” Menlove said. “When we do have after school care we will follow the guidelines of having cohorts be kept at 12 students per adult and this is important because we will need to limit after care.”
In terms of school lunches, students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals will still be provided with meals, most likely in a grab-and-go format.
If this school year hasn’t already had enough curveballs, the potential for public safety power shut offs will throw in another curveball.
“It has been shared with us to prepare for those public safety power shut offs that may potentially happen during distance learning. Live interaction may not be possible, but people could be contacted via phone,” Menlove said. She noted that she will work with West Side staff and teachers to prepare for the potential of a five-day power shut off during distance learning.
West Side’s first day of school will be Aug. 18.
Discussing school reopening
For when the school can reopen, whenever that may be, the district has a board-approved plan for reopening, which will apply to a hybrid model of reopening and a traditional model.
“The county must be off the watchlist for 14 consecutive days before a school can consider offering in-person learning. As of today, Sonoma County remains on the watchlist at least until Aug. 2. It is not yet clear whether Sonoma County will be removed from the watch list, but even if it is, schools must still wait two weeks to reopen,” Menlove explained in a letter to West Side families.
When students do return to class, the school environment will look a bit different and there will be several safety measures and protocols in place. Students will be placed in stable cohorts in order to limit exposure to staff and other students and each group will remain in the same classroom for the entire day.
Classrooms will be laid out so that desks face away from each other and can allow for six-foot social distancing. Decals that remind students and staff to maintain social distancing will be placed in classrooms and throughout campus.
Plexiglass barriers will be placed in the front office space and in areas where social distancing is difficult. Touchless toilets, sinks and hand sanitizer stations will be installed and every other bathroom stall or so will be closed off to allow for distancing.
Classrooms, facilities and school materials will be cleaned multiple times on a daily basis and classroom items such as glue sticks or blocks will not be shared. Students will get their own containers to store their own school supplies and materials and they’ll be encouraged to bring their own water bottle to use at fill stations instead of using a drinking fountain.
All staff and students in third grade and above will be required to wear a facial covering. According to the school reopening plan, students in second grade and below will be strongly encouraged to wear a mask. Extra masks and hand sanitizers will be provided when needed.
Upon arrival to school, students will have a wellness check and will wash their hands or hand sanitize and arrival and dismissal will be staggered so that cohorts do not mix. When kids arrive on campus, they will exit their car to the right and go directly to their classroom with their face mask on.
“Cohorts will be important and to stay with the same staff, limit the mixing of groups,” Menlove said.
Recess and meal time will also be staggered, but will likely take place outside where students will remain in their own cohorts and children will be encouraged to bring their own meals.
In regard to COVID testing, school staff will be encouraged to get tested periodically if possible.
When school will reopen is unclear and Menlove stressed that due to the ever-changing nature of this pandemic, school plans have to be adaptable and may change.
In a letter to West Side families, Menlove said, “Thank you for your ongoing patience and understanding during these challenging and quickly-changing times.”
To view the entire statement from the superintendent and to review the school’s plans, visit: https://www.westsideusd.org/apps/news/article/1259562.