Denair Announces Back-to-School Health Guidelines; Plan is for Students and Staff to Return to Class Aug. 12

Classes will resume Wed., Aug. 12 in the Denair Unified School District with students and teachers together to the classroom and plenty of safeguards in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. All staff and students will be encouraged – but not required – to wear face coverings when minimal social distancing of 3 to 6 feet cannot be maintained. Frequent hand washing also will be encouraged.

These beginning guidelines – along with answers to Frequently Asked Questions in English and Spanish were released by the district on its website and Facebook page and emailed to parents today.

Denair’s plan was developed in coordination with state and county education leaders as well as county health officials.

“I want the community to know we are being thoughtful and strategic in our planning,” said Terry Metzger, Denair’s superintendent. “We have tried to think through how best to protect our students and staff while fulfilling our educational mission, but we recognize that circumstances in our community could change before school begins in August.”

With that in mind, the district’s plans include alternative scenarios:

  • A blended learning model that combines two days of face-to-face class time with three days of distance learning
  • A pure distance learning model that provides more structure than the system implemented quickly in mid-March when California mandated all students must learn from home. It would only be used if shelter-in-place orders were reissued because of increasing COVID levels.
  • An independent study option for students whose parents aren’t comfortable with them returning to a traditional classroom setting, who are medically fragile or need to be quarantined on advice from their doctor

In all scenarios, grades will be recorded and attendance kept.

Denair has more than 1,300 students on its four K-12 campuses. Metzger joined more than two dozen other school superintendents in Stanislaus County in discussing how to safely reopen schools in a COVID world. Members of the Stanislaus County Public Health Department also provided guidance as did the Departments of Education and Public Health.

In early June, the district also conducted an online survey parents and staff about reopening options. More than 200 families as well as 67% of staff participated. The results showed:

  • 70.5% of parents and 50.4% of staff want school to resume in a traditional manner, with students on campus five days a week and reasonable safety precautions in place
  • 21% of parents and 44.8% of staff want a combination of on-campus and distance learning
  • 8.5% of parents and 4.8% of staff want distance learning only

“In both surveys, the narrative responses were extremely valuable in shaping our thinking about how to open the new school year,” Metzger said.

When classes resume, Metzger said the state will provide face coverings for employees and students. Teachers also will have access to face shields so students can better see them, especially younger students. Students will be asked to sanitize their hands entering and leaving every classroom. Frequent hand washing also will be encouraged. Disinfectant wipes will be readily available.

Classrooms will be configured to put at least 3 feet of space between desks. All extraneous furniture will be removed. There will be no sharing of supplies and equipment. Additional cleaning will be scheduled throughout the week. The district is considering turning off drinking fountains and providing water-bottle filling stations for students and staff.

The subsidized food program in which most of Denair’s students participate will be modified.

More “grab and go” and prepackaged hot and cold meals will be prepared to avoid crowded lines. There will be no buffets or salad bars. Students will be encouraged to maintain social distancing while eating indoors and outdoors. During bad weather, indoor seating may expand into gymnasiums.

Plexiglass screens will be installed in school offices where visitors enter. There will be strict limits on how many visitors can be on campus at one time and how many parental volunteers are allowed into classes.

Yet to be determined are the status of sports, clubs and other extracurricular after-school activities.

Metzger said if a student or staff member tests positive for the coronavirus, the district will work directly with county health officials to determine a plan to protect the health of other children and adults who have possible exposure to the infected person.

“Many of our families and teachers are very ready to return to on-campus learning and we are hopeful that schools will be able to open in early August,” Metzger said. “We’re looking forward to using those first few weeks of school to reconnect with our students and families. We will focus on mental health and well-being, establishing expectations for learning and teaching students now to best use the available technology tools. Our goal is to put all of the pieces in place so that if we must shift into a blended model or to distance learning during the year, we will be able to do so seamlessly.”

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