The COVID-19 pandemic continues to loom over the delivery of education all across the country. It is no different in the Denair Unified School District, where half the campuses will remain on 100% distance learning for at least another week because of health concerns.
Superintendent Terry Metzger delivered an update on the district’s situation Thursday night to trustees and the public. In her report, she pointed to dismal statistics from Stanislaus County and the San Joaquin Valley that continue to show rising coronavirus cases and a scary lack of hospital space.
““We seem stuck,” Metzger said. “Conditions in our county and our region don’t seem to be getting better.”
Beginning Monday of this week, Denair reverted to 100% distance learning because of concerns over potential COVID exposures among a handful of staff members. When classes resume Tuesday after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, a handful of students will return to Denair High School and Denair Charter Academy, but Denair Elementary Charter Academy and Denair Middle School will stay with distance learning only.
“The health and safety of our students and staff is a top priority of the district,” Metzger wrote in an email sent to all parents this week. “We are hopeful that all learning cohorts will resume the week of January 25, 2021. Schools will be communicating out to families by the end of next week.”
The superintendent also announced that the district expects to receive $1 million in federal stimulus money intended to help schools with pandemic-related expenses, including reopening safely when the virus is better under control and providing additional instructional services for students. She promised to put those funds to good use to “make a difference for our students.”
Less certain is whether the district will apply for any of the $2 billion in education funding recently promised by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The reason, Metzger explained, is that those dollars come with plenty of strings attached, including increased testing of students and staff.
“The testing requirements alone could cost us as much money as money we’re going to get,” she said, adding that district officials still are analyzing their best options.
In the meantime, Metzger said the district will not rush to bring more students back to campus until it is convinced it can do so safely.
“Reasonable and sustainable continues to be the filter I’m using when making decisions,” she said.
In other action, trustees:
- Heard an upbeat report from Special Education Direction Suzy Ramirez about the district’s programs, which serve 155 students. “Our kids are thriving in our environment, even amid the COVID craziness,” she said. She reported that Denair has earned a positive reputation among families throughout the region for its Project Life program, which aims to teach high school students and young adults life skills that allow them to live more independently. “Parents are wanting to transfer their students to Denair. The word is out. … Denair is making headlines about what we’re doing for families,” Ramirez said.
- Voted 4-0, with Trustee Regina Gomes absent, to approve a $50,000 contract with Caldwell Flores Winters of Emeryville to develop a Facilities Master Plan to guide future school construction and upgrades of the existing campuses. The agreement includes help from the company to identify and apply for state funding to pay for projects to reduce the need for school bonds paid for by taxpayers. Caldwell Winters Flores would receive 2.5% of any successful grant applications.
- Applauded a report from DHS Principal Kara Backman, who said the district has been awarded $400,000 for its Career Technical Education (CTE) Pathway courses that introduce students to potential careers. Denair is one of a handful of local districts chosen to be part of the Stanislaus County Career Inspiration Center, which will open next year on the former Teal Middle School campus in Empire.
- Learned that the district has added 220 Chromebook computers, meaning it now has one for each student.
- Voted 4-0 to approve the School Accountability Report Cards (SARC), as required annually by the state, for DECA, DMS, DHS, and DCA.
- Listened to an update from Metzger about the potential impact of Senate Bill 328, which specifies that high schools may not begin class before 8:30 a.m. and middle schools not before 8 a.m. She said there are lots of details to work out, including bus routes, but that the district has time because the new law does not take effect until the 2022-23 school year.