Superintendent Discusses Coronavirus Response, Impacts

Submitted by Denair Unified School District:

For all the planning, the strategizing and the meetings about coronavirus that Terry Metzger has devoted time to in the past two weeks, one constant has emerged: whatever decisions seem right today might be quickly overtaken by the ever-changing sequence of public health needs tomorrow.

Thursday night, the Denair Unified School District superintendent briefed board members, staff and the public on the steps the district has taken related to the pandemic and likely will be confronted with in the days and weeks to come. Expect many spring sports and large schoolwide events to be cancelled and most student and employee travel postponed.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Metzger said. “Things change quickly throughout the day. Our goal is to use common sense and make the best decisions based on the information we have at the time.”

Last Friday, Metzger attended a meeting with the Stanislaus County public health officer, who met with most of the public school superintendents as well as officials from CSU Stanislaus, Modesto Junior College and Merced College.

One key piece of information Metzger learned was that the public health officer is legally empowered to shut down schools all across the county, based on an assessment of the public health situation in the county. Stanislaus has had just two reported cases of coronavirus so far – though that number certainly can be expected to rise – so closing school hasn’t been discussed (like in the Seattle area and in the states of Oregon, Ohio, Michigan, Maryland and New Mexico as well as the District of Columbia).

Beginning Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has recommended that all gatherings of 250 or more people be minimized. That doesn’t include students and teachers coming together on a campus, Metzger explained.

“The purpose in limiting mass gatherings is to reduce conditions where people who are not commonly together come together. Our students have been together since the outbreak,” she said.

In addition to limiting large gatherings, Metzger said the state’s guidance emphasizes “social distancing” for smaller gatherings such as after-school clubs and extracurricular activities. “In keeping with this guidance, we are not canceling these smaller group meetings, but holding them in venues where adequate social distancing is possible,” she said.

Already, schools in Merced County have forbidden their schools from playing any teams from Stanislaus County. The Southern League – in which Denair High competes – includes three schools in Merced.

The California Interscholastic Federation – which oversees all high school sports in the state – has left it up to each section to determine what is best in its area. The CIF meets Tuesday, when it is expected to provide more direction.

At Denair Elementary Charter Academy, a first-grade field trip to the Children’s Museum in Stockton went off as planned Thursday. But a schoolwide assembly scheduled for today and a field trip to the State Capitol next week both have been cancelled.

At the high school, the Powder Puff football game and talent show have been cancelled. FFA activities have been reduced. Denair Charter Academy postponed a field trip to the Great Valley Museum at Modesto Junior College.

The district continues to promote hand washing, coughing into arms and social distancing. Extra care has been taken to clean and wipe commonly shared surfaces. Students and staff who don’t feel well are encouraged to stay home. But Metzger said there are no is no reason now to create independent home study plans for healthy students or have teachers lead classes online, as other districts with high rates of coronavirus in their communities have been forced to do.

But as with all things related to the pandemic, change is the operative word. Metzger said the district is committed to communicating frequently with students, staff, parents and the larger community.

“We’re trying to use common sense and be proactive,” she said.

In other action Thursday night, trustees:

  • Listened as Chief Business Officer presented a budget report. Among the highlights: attendance has risen to 1,316 students and the district is expected to end this budget year with a cash balance of $2,154,580.
  • Approved a $133,270 agreement with the Stanislaus County Office of Education for audiological services, a behavior analyst, staff training, information systems, multimedia services, mail and delivery services, substitute teacher calling and Internet services.
  • Heard a report from Technology Director William Jenkins. Highlights in past year include a district website overhaul, Voice Over Internet Protocol telephone installation and wireless network reconfiguration, among other important projects.
  • Agreed to Memorandums of Understanding with College of San Joaquin and Humphreys College to place and support interns as teachers in the district.
  • Approved a partnership with A Step Forward of Turlock to provide additional mental health support services on school campuses. A clinician will provide individual student services addressing social, emotional and behavioral challenges/symptoms identified as interfering with student success.
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