Quality education happening in Denair classrooms, but pandemic continues to cast a shadow

With COVID cases and quarantines among students and staff appearing to level off, the focus of Thursday night’s Denair Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting – for the first time in many months – was about more traditional academic topics. 

Student performance plans for the high school and middle school were presented. Updates were given about special education and teaching English to non-native speakers. Teachers involved with music, art and folkloric dance shared information about their programs.

Still, there was no denying the invisible elephant present in the room. Even as educators, students and other staff become accustomed to COVID’s many impacts and safety requirements, the question on everyone’s mind is, “Who will be affected next?”

For instance, Superintendent Terry Metzger told trustees that 18 students and five staff members have tested positive for COVID just this week. Fifty students are on modified quarantine – meaning they can still attend school – while 19 others are confined to their homes. Eleven staff members are quarantined because of potential exposures or positive test results themselves.

Metzger said the numbers are “down significantly from a month ago, but up a bit from last week.”

“It seems to go in cycles,” she said.

Today is the deadline for staff members to show proof of their COVID vaccinations or be subject to weekly testing beginning Monday. Metzger said less than a dozen employees had yet to submit their vaccine status by Thursday. She expects about 60 to choose to be tested, including a handful she said will be tested until they receive their second vaccine dose.

Metzger also updated trustees about the potential impact of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement earlier this month that all students 12 and older should be vaccinated once the FDA gives full approval to vaccines for them. She expects that adding a mandatory COVID vaccine to the 10 others already required for students will take months to receive legislative approval. She doesn’t anticipate mandatory COVID shots for students to take effect anytime before the next school year.

Metzger also recommended that parents and others with concerns about making student vaccinations mandatory contact their state Senator or Assembly member. Local school boards like Denair’s will have no authority to overrule whatever the state decides, she said.

In other action Thursdays, trustees:

  • Voted 5-0 to approve School Plans for Student Achievement for Denair High School and Denair Middle School. The plans lay out multiple measurable goals over the next few years to improve student performance in key areas as well as staff retention and training.
  • Heard a report about the district’s English Language Learner program, which includes 247 across all grade levels – 15 more than last year. Students are regularly evaluated on their ability to read, write and speak English, and many are reclassified out of the program once they are deemed proficient.
  • Received an update on the expected receipt of about $2.5 million in ESSER III funds, part of the federal government’s relief package for school districts. In order to qualify, districts must hold public meetings to allow community members to weigh in on how the money might be used. Denair will hold an English language meeting Oct. 19 at 6 pm via Zoom (the link will be posted on the district website on Monday) and a Spanish meeting Oct. 26 at the weekly Cafecito meeting, 8:15 am at DMS, Room F3.
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