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.

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COVID impacts still rippling through Denair schools; high school football, volleyball teams all in quarantine

COVID cases, unfortunately, continue to interrupt campus life in the Denair Unified School District

Among those affected this week are 165 students at Denair Elementary Charter Academy who are quarantined because of an exposure to a single person who tested positive for COVID. The impact also was felt at Denair High School, where 82 students are in quarantine, including the entire varsity and junior varsity football and volleyball teams.

The situation is not unique to Denair, said Superintendent Terry Metzger. Many school districts across Stanislaus County also have experienced waves of COVID-related exposures and quarantines because of the highly contagious delta variant.

“Last week we had a couple of big exposures … and it resulted in a lot of people having to go into quarantine, either modified or at home,” she said.  “It feels like that was a wake-up call for our community. ‘Oh, OK. So what do we do now?’ ”

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COVID continues to dominate classroom life; nearly 100 Denair students and staff test positive in first month

Sept. 12, 2021

Contact: Terry Metzger, Ed.D., superintendent
(209) 632-7514, ext. 1202 or tmetzger@dusd.k12.ca.us

When the school year began a month ago, there was widespread excitement among Denair’s 1,300 students and staff that after two years of instruction dramatically affected by the COVID pandemic this year would be different.

Unfortunately, that hope has not reflected the reality in the Denair Unified School District and many others across the country, where COVID has yet again dominated the education conversation. The focus on reading, writing and arithmetic has had to compete with quarantines, contact tracing and testing of a different kind. 

“It’s been very stressful for everyone,” said Denair Superintendent Terry Metzger. “I think part of it is not knowing what’s going to happen from day-to-day. Also, in the spring and over the summer, we were all so hopeful for a more ‘normal’ school year, but it’s been anything but normal.”

At the monthly Board of Trustees meeting Thursday night, Metzger shared some of the sobering statistics from the first four weeks of school:

  • 82 students have tested positive for COVID; 71 of them (all unvaccinated) got it somewhere other than at school.
  • Another 156 unvaccinated students were potentially exposed to someone on campus who tested positive, requiring them to be placed in at-home or modified quarantines (where they could still can attend school as long as they are asymptomatic). Seventy-eight unvaccinated students were exposed off-campus, also requiring some level of quarantine. And 38 vaccinated students were exposed, but because they exhibited no symptoms, they did not have to quarantine.
  • 13 teachers have tested positive, 34 were exposed to someone who tested positive but didn’t have to quarantine because they are vaccinated and 31 who are unvaccinated were exposed and had to quarantine for up to 10 days.
  • 65% of staff are fully vaccinated and another half-dozen have had at least one dose, Metzger said. It is unknown how many students eligible for the shot (those 12 and older) are vaccinated.

All those statistics have had a dramatic impact on how education has been delivered. Substitute teachers, predictably, are in high demand and short supply. Contact tracing for anyone who might have been exposed is a 40-hour-a-week job for multiple people. Teachers are sending assignments home for quarantined students so they can stay current on what’s being taught in class. The staff is so short-handed that Metzger herself pulled a yard duty assignment recently to help out.

“Every school in the district has had multiple positive cases, with students and staff in quarantine,” she said. “It’s affected every campus.”

Sadly, there is no let up in sight. Metzger shared the example of one high school student involved in athletics who recently tested positive for COVID. It was determined that the student had 26 “close contacts” – people who had been within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes. Of those, 14 had been unmasked so had to quarantine at home, seven were masked so could still come to campus on a modified quarantine with twice-a-week testing and five were unmasked but vaccinated and asymptomatic, meaning they didn’t have to quarantine.

“We had to gather information on all 26 people, then determine which category they fit in,” Metzger said. 

Still, she complimented students for their willingness to follow the COVID protocols, including wearing masks at all times indoors and, more and more, even when they are outside.

“The kids are doing a great job with their masks. They don’t want to be quarantined,” Metzger said. “We are seeing a lot more kids — and staff — wearing their masks all the time. I think everyone is just being more cautious and aware because it’s feeling much more ‘real’ than last year.”

The district will continue to lean on the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency, as well as state and federal authorities, for COVID-related safety guidance, Metzger said. Meanwhile, continued vigilance by everyone is the only way to get through the current situation, she said.

“It’s critical that people stay home when sick, even if the symptoms seem mild or not COVID-related,” Metzger cautioned. “We’ve had a number of students whose parents were sure the symptoms were ‘just allergies’ but tested just in case, and the student’s results came back positive for COVID. We are certainly seeing that the virus affects people very differently and you just don’t know how hard it’s going to hit you or your family.”

In other action, trustees:

  • Heard a lengthy report on a long-range facilities master plan from two representatives of Caldwell Flores Winters, an Emeryville firm hired by the district to assess potential building needs for the next decade. The three-phase plan could cost as much as $35 million and include upgrades on every campus — new ag and science facilities at Denair High School, science labs at Denair Middle School, replacement of long-term portable buildings, and five new TK and kindergarten classrooms and a staff restroom at Denair Elementary Charter Academy. Board members could vote to adopt the facilities master plan as soon as October. It would be paid for through a combination of developer fees, state and federal grants, and possibly a new school bond.
  • Unanimously approved the renaming of the high school athletic facilities as the “Denair Lions Sports Complex” in recognition of the significant and generous contributions of the Denair Lions Club over many years. A metal sign is expected to be erected and dedicated Sept. 17 in the football parking lot before that night’s home game against Ripon Christian.
  • Appointed Melissa Cherry, Andrea Bennett and Marcia Smith to the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee. All are parents of students attending Denair schools. One vacancy remains on the seven-member panel. It needs to be filled by a community member representing taxpayers.

DCA invites parents, community to 2021 Family Night

Denair Charter Academy will host its annual Family Night on Thursday, Sept. 16 at the outdoor Coyote Plaza.

All parents and family members of DCA’s K-12 students are invited to attend from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., as are any community members interested in learning more about the campus’ many unique programs. Parking is available in the lot near the DCA and district administrative offices, just across the street from Denair Middle School.

DCA features home-schooling support for parents of kindergarten through eighth-graders as well as an independent study option for high school students for whom a traditional schedule doesn’t mesh with their academic needs. Independent study students spend at least one day a week on campus to meet with their instructors and also have access to a full range of online courses.

In addition to having an opportunity to meet with DCA staff on Family Night, there are activities and games planned for students and their families. Tito’s Tacos and Grill will be on hand to provide food and drinks.

“Denair Charter Academy is proud to share the accomplishments of our uniquely talented students and staff,” said first-year DCA Principal Vanessa Hayden. “Our educational plans are as tailored as well-fitted suits to our individual students.  While each suit is different, our students will wear them well throughout their lives. 

“This night also is an opportunity for families to see what options they’d like to add to their learning plans. Pease join us for Family Night to share in the celebration and explore our onsite classes, clubs, home-schooling program, independent studies, credit recovery and virtual instruction options. Everyone is welcome.”

New Teacher Profile: Brittany Bernardi

This is one in a series of Q&A’s with teachers new to Denair Unified in 2021-22.

Family: Husband, Craig; daughters, Addison and Emerson

School: Denair Charter Academy

Subject taught: All

Experience and education: New to DCA, but this is my 10th year teaching. Graduated from Hilmar High School, UC Davis and UC Davis School of Education.

What attracted you to Denair? The small-town community. 

What most inspires you about teaching? Making a positive impact. 

What is a challenge you look forward to tackling this year? Learning the DCA way. 

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