The Denair Unified School District will take another important step toward returning students to full-time in-person next week by expanding the amount of time children spend in class.
About 60% of Denair’s 1,300 K-12 students already receive face-to-face instruction multiple days of the week. Beginning Monday, their school days will be lengthened by 90 minutes at Denair Elementary Charter Academy and by two hours at Denair Middle School and Denair High School. Classes will let out about 1:30 p.m.
The changes were prompted by updated state and federal guidance regarding distancing between desks in classrooms, sanitation and other COVID-related safety precautions, Denair Superintendent Terry Metzger explained in letter to parents sent Monday. The moves also position the district to transition smoothly into full-time in-person instruction for all students on Monday, April 12, when students and staff return from spring break.
“Next week will allow us to work out the bugs so we’re ready for the last seven weeks of the school year after the break,” Metzger explained.
Between now and April 12, parents who prefer to keep their children on 100% distance learning for the remainder of this school year must formally notify the district of their choice. Those wishing to opt out of in-person learning can do so by completing a form https://forms.gle/XVWPyFwvstu7hiJ47
“If they do nothing, we assume their child is coming,” Metzger said.
Parents with specific questions about their child’s schedule, teachers and other plans should contact the administrators at those campuses, or go to their websites or Facebook pages. School officials also will be reaching out to parents with more information.
One of the key factors that boosts Denair confidence about having more students on campus was the Center for Disease Control’s determination that desks need only to be spaced 3 feet – and not 6 feet – apart. For Denair, which has plenty of smaller classrooms, especially at DECA, that was a huge logistical hurdle to clear.
“It’s the difference between having 11 students in a room to putting 18 or 19, which is huge,” Metzger said. “It gives us a lot more flexibility.”
At DECA, for instance, a grade level with 35 in-person students now can be divided up into two in-person classes instead of three.
At middle school and high school, Metzger said larger classes will be moved to the library, gym and even the inside seating area of the cafeteria.
New guidance that slightly relaxes rules about cleaning vs. disinfecting also make it easier to have more students on campus. At DECA, students will once again be able to use playground equipment, which no longer must be disinfected between uses.
Still, all students and staff will be required to wear face coverings, wash their hands frequently and avoid sharing materials.
Free grab-and-go breakfasts, lunches and a snack will be provided each day to all students. Meals will be eaten outside, except in inclement weather. Parents whose children remain on distance learning may still pick up free food each day in the Denair Middle School parking lot.
Metzger’s letter to parents includes more information about the reasons Denair feels comfortable moving ahead with having more students on campus:
• The evidence from other schools that have reopened across the U.S. suggests that masking (wearing face coverings) is the No. 1 one preventative measure we can take.
• When masking and hand-washing routines are consistently enforced, it significantly lowers the risk of exposure for students and staff.
• The minimum 3-foot physical distancing measure is appropriate for student-to-student distancing. The adult-to-student and adult-to-adult measure is still 6 feet. We are configuring classrooms accordingly.
• Running a school day that is “close” to normal significantly helps with staffing, a critical component to fully reopening our schools.
• As we near the end of the winter weather, we will be able to open windows/doors, and use our outdoor areas more often, allowing for better air circulation and distancing.
• We know that being in school will help students’ mental health and well-being.
“The move to five-day, in-person learning is the right thing to do based on all of the new data and guidance we have received in the last two weeks,” Metzger wrote. “We considered many factors and want to assure families that we would not bring students back fully if we did not think we could do it safely for students and staff.”