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The target for reopening Windsor schools is moving again. In a community update on Feb. 23, Windsor Unified School District (WUSD) Superintendent Jeremy Decker announced that the district has set an aspirational date for getting transitional kindergarten (TK) to sixth grade students back for in-person hybrid instruction.

The one exception to the goal date is students at Cali Calmecac, which will open with TK-5 students, due to the sixth grade schedule.

“It is possible that the district will also be able to transition to in-person instruction for students in grades 7-12 around the April 5 date as well, but we will need to get clarification on how our middle and high school students can abide by the county health mandate to maintain stable groups of students before being able to confidently commit to that date,” Decker wrote.

If the district tries to reopen while the county is still in the purple tier, it needs to track additional risk mitigation mandates by local and state health departments, including completing and uploading the district’s COVID Prevention Plan (CPP) and getting a COVID Safety Plan (CSP) approved by state and local health offices (prior approval is only required if the district tries to reopen while in the purple tier).

According to Decker’s update, the WUSD has submitted CSPs for all of its school sites to the county for review and approval. The county’s health department has seven days to review the plans for each site and, if approved, the plans then get sent to the state health department for review.

“Sacramento then has 7 days to review the plan,” Decker wrote. “Should they not reply with any revisions, the plan is then automatically approved, and the district is allowed to open for in-person instruction 5 days later. Of note, the CSP would not have to be approved by the County Health Department should we enter the red tier, only if we plan to reopen during the purple tier.”

The district has its Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) established with both teachers and classified unions, and, according to the established MOUs, the district has two possible paths to a return to in-person learning — one that’s dependent on the district entering the red tier, and another that outlines a return two weeks after the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has been offered to all district employees, with the stipulation that for TK-6 students, the case rate is no more than 25 per 100,000 and for 7-12 grades that the county is in the red tier.

If the district returns to hybrid in-person learning because the county is in the red tier, it can do so whether or not staff has been vaccinated, and students will be brought back in the following order: students with special needs; English learners; foster, homeless and other high needs students (TK-12); kindergarten; grades 1-2; grades 3-6; grades 7-12.

WUSD elementary and special education staff were being vaccinated last week, with the potential to have most staff vaccinated with their first dose by the end of last week.

“Let’s say for the sake of discussion, all of our elementary staff has had an opportunity to receive a dose by Feb. 19. Four weeks after (when they would get a second dose) that is March 19, a few weeks after that, we’re pushing right up to spring break. I think a realistic or reasonable date for a return is April 5,” Decker said during the Feb. 16 board meeting.

During the WUSD school board meeting on Feb. 16, the board was read handfuls of letters from parents concerned about student mental health and urging the district to push harder to reopen both for instructional learning and for student sports.

In response to a throng of parents that specifically referenced the declining mental health of high school students, Decker reminded them during the meeting that right now, districts in the purple tier are only able to seek approval for reopening for TK-6 students, not students in grades 7-12.

“One aspect that’s really difficult for secondary school — we are bound by two things that make reopening full time impossible. One is we have to maintain six-foot distancing in classrooms regardless of if a child is 5 or 18, but the biggest difficulty is we have to have stable groups,” Decker said. “A stable group, to define it, is a group of kids that basically stay together.”

While maintaining stable groups makes sense for elementary schools — students stay with their class, which allows the district to define “A” days and “B” days of rotating groups — stable groups become more difficult when dealing with students who traditionally move from class to class with changing groups of students, based on what classes they have.

“We are only allowed to have two stable cohorts mix in a day right now, meaning you can have math and science classes where the students mix … but you can’t go up to three, which makes it difficult because most high schools or middle schools are on a six-class schedule,” Decker said, which makes it difficult to plan how students go back.

Also adding to what districts are beholden to is state guidelines — which, for California, are more stringent than the guidelines for reopening that were put out for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“The district is actively planning for a return to in-person hybrid instruction beginning on April 5. Be that as it may, as this will be a hybrid schedule with numerous safety requirements, school will look very different for our students when they return. In the coming weeks, the district will be sending a number of different communications home, designed to help us with planning to return to school, and explaining what the return to school entails,” Decker’s Feb. 23 announcement stated.

As such, parents should be on the lookout for a site-specific survey where a specific schedule is provided, where parents can let the district know if they plan to send their students back for in-person instruction or continue with distance learning; a town hall calendar invitation to describe what the return to in-person instruction will look like; a link to the district’s CSPs, once approved.

Decker’s letter concluded by trying to assure parents that it’s his goal to get students back to school before the school year ends.

“I have received a number of emails recently from parents concerned that we may not be returning to school this year or next fall. It is not the intent of this superintendent to allow that to take place,” he said. “I am extremely hopeful that we will be welcoming students back to the classroom this year, and as a district we are actively planning for that day. The target date of April 5, 2021 is now in place, and we will continue to jump through the bureaucratic hoops so as to make in-person instruction a reality for our students. Thank you for sticking with us, as I know that this has been grueling for all parties: students, families, and school staff. There truly is a light at the end of the tunnel!”

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