Even though San Joaquin County is a long way from returning to the red tier in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the Lodi Unified School District is looking to apply for in-person instruction grants that would allow students to return to campus.

The district’s Board of Education unanimously approved moving forward to apply for a grant by Feb. 1, and approved a special meeting to formally vote on a resolution next Tuesday.

Meeting a Feb. 1 deadline would allow the district to have students back on campus Feb. 16.

“I am in full support of us doing everything we can to get our kids back in school as quickly as possible,” board president Ron Freitas said. “I know that gives staff next to no time to accomplish (writing the application), but we need to go large or go home.”

Dr. Cathy Nichols-Washer, the district’s superintendent, said the grants offered by Gov. Gavin Newsom would only permit elementary schools to open once San Joaquin County’s seven-day adjusted case rate falls below 28 per 100,000 residents.

Its current adjusted case rate was 76.7 per 100,000 residents as of Tuesday.

“The district can apply for the grant,” Washer said. “We wouldn’t be able to start on Feb. 16, but we can get ready to start. If we’re still in the purple tier, we’d be put on hold until we’re ready to start when we get to the red tier.”

If the district is able to apply for the grant by Feb. 1, it stands to receive $450 per average daily attendance, or about $15.5 million when students return to school.

Students with exceptional needs, foster and homeless youth, students without digital access, and all students in kindergarten through second grade would be allowed on campus.

The district will be required to prove to the San Joaquin County Office of Education that it is regularly testing staff and students for COVID-19 symptoms, has approved a COVID-19 prevention program and school guidance checklist, has ratified an agreement with certified and classified employees, and must offer a distance learning option for students choosing not to return to campus.

If the district is unable to make the Feb. 1 deadline, it can apply by March 1 and have students return by March 15 for instruction. That option, however, would generate only $11.6 million in funding under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

With this option, all students in kindergarten through sixth grade could return to campus.

“I’d like to see us jump on this,” board member Courtney Porter said. “If we need more time, that’s fine, but I’d like to be ready to go, and — to take a sports (phrase) — set it up and be ready to play. It’s a great opportunity for Lodi Unified to get our kids back in school.”

Board member Ron Heberle, who has wanted students to return to campus as quickly as possible from the start of the pandemic, said he was a bit skeptical of hearing the governor’s proposal at first.

While the proposal sounded great, he said, he wondered if it was a political move by Newsom.

“This is a proposal, and it has yet to be shaken out at the legislative level,” he said. “However, I just feel that we have to try this for the sake of our students. Whether we try for February or March, bringing kids back to school is a positive thing.”

The district will post an agenda for a Jan. 26 special meeting later this week.

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