Uncertainty Remains for Denair Staff, Students Because of COVID-19 Pandemic

Educators – from superintendents to principals to teachers – are in uncharted waters when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as there was no road map this spring when schools across the country shut down and transitioned to distance learning, there is very little clarity about what the next school year may look like.

So even as the Denair Unified School District prepares to celebrate graduates, retirees and students being promoted to the next grade in the upcoming week, the landscape for when classes resume in August remains uncertain.

“It’s way too early. If we put a solid plan in place today, it would change tomorrow,” Denair Superintendent Terry Metzger told trustees and others during the district’s second Zoom board meeting Thursday night.

“We’re definitely getting mixed signals from state and county,” Metzger said. “We don’t know what schools’ role will be. Schools need to be open so parents can go back to work. The safety of staff and students is paramount and, if we open the economy too soon, there’s definitely a danger we could be right back here.”

“Here” is a world where no face-to-face instruction has taken place since March 18; where teachers, students and other non-essential workers have been sheltering in place; where lessons have been delivered via computer and video meetings; and where milestone events – like Denair High’s drive-through graduation ceremony May 22 – will be nothing like anyone has ever experienced before.

The logistics of Thursday’s meeting certainly reflected the new reality. Metzger and the five trustees — Crystal Sousa, Kathi Dunham-Filson, Ray Prock Jr., Carmen Wilson and Regina Gomes, plus student trustee Logan Pierce – sat 6 feet apart around a U-shaped table arrangement. The principals, staff and community members who normally would attend in person instead connected via Zoom.

“Flexibility” and “adaptability” were the words frequently used to describe what the last two months have been like for everyone.

“It’s called a school closure, but it’s really just the buildings that are closed,” Dunham-Filson said. “I’m grateful for all the hard work everybody has done.”

Metzger said the district will work with the Stanislaus County Office of Education to create training for teachers about how to deliver lessons via distance learning.

“We anticipate it will be necessary in some form,” she said. “We could start the next year with distance learning. Or a modified schedule. Or a normal schedule. We just don’t know.

“We’re thinking about ways we can help teachers to explore platforms and tools and decide what’s right for them. We’re not looking to mandate specific ways. We want them to choose what works for them.”

Metzger said one of the hardest things for educators to contend with is ambiguity.

“We’re rule followers,” she said. “We want to do the right thing for kids. We grapple with that. It’s a constant discussion.”

In another COVID-related item Thursday, trustees unanimously passed a modified grading policy recommended by the state.

At the elementary level (through fifth grade), the policy waives the requirement that students submit graded work for the remainder of the school year and allowed them to receive a pass/no pass grade for third trimester instead.

In middle and high school, the policy allows course grades to be calculated “in a manner that reflects student achievement and learning and supports the preservation of the progress students made prior to school closure. Final grades shall be determined using all assigned work through the end of the semester.”

The board also approved policies on distance learning as well as COVID-inspired memorandums of understanding with employee unions defining essential employees and covering working onsite vs. remotely, teacher evaluations and how to quantify comp time for some employees.

In other action Thursday, the board:

  • Enthusiastically extended Metzger’s contract by one year through the 2022-23 school year. She will make $160,550 in 2020-21.
  • Honored five retiring employees – DECA paraeducator Laurel Dodd, Denair High criminal justice teacher and softball coach Joseph Esquivel, DECA first-grade teacher Kathryn Perry, Denair Middle School campus supervisor Donald Smith and middle school teacher and coach Curtis Wooten. Each will receive an engraved clock from the district.
  • Recognized seven high school students who earned the State Seal of Bilingual Literacy on their diplomas — Michelle Bernal, Jesus Flores, Abigail Martinez, Christian Obando, Fernando Silva, Jennifer Tachiquin and Brigg Wenstrand.
  • Gave Pierce a plaque to honor his two years of service as a student board member.
  • Heard an update from Metzger on trends in attendance, discipline and interdistrict transfers. She said attendance this year on the four campuses is flat or slightly above 2018-19 levels, suspensions and expulsions are down, and that she has approved fewer transfers of students living within the DUSD boundaries to other districts based on board direction.

Authorized $184,000 on bond money to be spent on new energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems as DECA and the high school.

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