A virtual meeting was a fitting way for Denair Unified School District trustees to formally adopt a school reopening plan Thursday night in which students and teachers will begin classes next month under a distance learning format because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Denair’s five school board trustees have met in person – albeit with plenty of social distancing in place – until Thursday night, when they called a special meeting held via Zoom video conferencing. The primary item on the agenda was to hear about, then discuss and pass a plan to resume classes Aug. 12 using distance learning.
Superintendent Terry Metzger explained that Denair Unified – like all other public and private schools in Stanislaus County – had no choice when it came to beginning school under a distance learning format. The county is on the state’s “watch list” because of rising COVID-19 cases locally. Until the county is off the list for 14 days in a row, in-person classes are not an option, Metzger said.
It was the same message Metzger delivered to more than 100 parents earlier this week in back-to-back video meetings held in English and Spanish. Parents who would like to listen to either information meeting can go to the district’s website and click on the link to “Community Information Session Recordings.” The website also includes answers in English and Spanish to Frequently Asked Questions.
Thursday night, Metzger shared some sobering statistics about Stanislaus County. Nearly 7,000 residents have tested positive. There have been 77 deaths and 266 people are hospitalized, 55 of them in intensive care.
All of which underscores why distance learning will be in place until students and staff can safely return.
Trustee Ray Prock Jr. – whose wife is a teacher at Denair Elementary Charter Academy and whose daughter is a senior at Denair High School – encouraged the district to return to in-person instruction “as soon as legally allowed.”
“We are Denair. This is what we do,” Prock said.
Metzger assured him that she shares that feeling, but the district must follow the recommendations from state and county health officials.
“Nobody wants students back on campus more than us, but we’ve got to do it in a thoughtful, responsible way,” she said.
Trustee Carmen Wilson worried about the impact on long-term distance learning not just on students, but also their parents – many of whom have jobs that make it difficult to be a home with their children during the day.
“From an economic perspective, parents rely on instruction so they can go to work. Not just as a babysitter, but so they can work,” Wilson said.
As she did in her virtual meeting with parents, Metzger went over some key differences between the distance learning that occurred for two months in the spring when the pandemic closed schools and what will happen beginning next. “That was crisis learning,” she said. “Now, we’ve had time to formulate a plan.”
- The district will provide Chromebook computers to every student – eventually. Devices are on back order, Metzger said. In the meantime, families who have laptops and other devices at home are encouraged to let their children use them so other students without devices can use what the district has.
- There will be minimum guidelines for how much time each day students at each grade level are expected to be working on assignments and logging on to their computers. Attendance will be kept and grades assigned. “We want education to be reasonable and sustainable,” Metzger said.
- Principals and teachers will be developing schedules for each grade level. Most online instruction will take place in the morning, Metzger said. Students would then have time to complete assignments and projects. Teachers are likely to have “office hours” in the afternoon – a time to work individually with students, talk with parents and prepare future lessons.
- Free food pickups will continue twice a week at the Denair Middle School parking lot, where enough breakfasts and lunches for six days are distributed. All students are eligible.
Metzger said parents will receive a letter from their child’s school within the next week outlining plans on that campus. She encouraged parents to communicate with their child’s teacher and principal about any concerns or questions.
“We want to partner with our parents,” Metzger said. “If something is not working, we want them to call us.”
The superintendent also credited the unions representing teachers and other employees for “helping us think through potential obstacles” to distance learning “and remove barriers.”
“This has definitely been a team effort,” she said.
When in-person instruction eventually does resume, Metzger said it is very likely to be under a hybrid format, with one or two days of classroom lessons combined with distance learning. The long-term goal remains to have everyone back on campus full time, but there’s no way to know now when that might occur.
Trustees voted 5-0 to approve the district’s reopening plan.