In recent weeks, both parents and teachers have been asking the Lodi Unified School District to reveal a safety protocol plan that will ensure staff and students will face no exposure to COVID-19 when they return to campus later in the academic year.
Superintendent Dr. Cathy Nichols Washer told the district’s Board of Education Tuesday that each school will create its own protocol.
“I know folks are interested in seeing these,” she said. “All the high school and secondary school plans are complete, and the elementary school plans will be completed. We will release all of them soon. As each campus is unique, each campus will come up with their own plan. It wouldn’t be feasible for the district to come up with one for all campuses to follow.”
Washer’s comments as she provided another update of the potential return to full-time, in-person instruction on all campuses sometime in the coming weeks.
The board has said at prior meetings that it would like to implement a phased return to campus that would see day programs go back to school sites first, followed my elementary schools a week later, and middle schools a week after that. Comprehensive high schools would return next semester.
Washer said a final in-person instruction protocol will include guidance on distancing practices, movement within the school, hygiene practices, health screening, transportation and case positive protocols, among others.
However, Washer admitted there will be no way to enforce social distancing in the classroom with every student returning and sitting at desks. Spacing in cafeterias will depend on schedules, as will recess and physical education times, she said.
The district is still determining how to maintain social distancing on buses, she said.
“We are making progress,” she said. “We will continue to offer supplies and equipment to replace what we have as it’s being used. We will look for better ways to do things as things change. This is not finalized, and as information continues to change, this will be altered.”
During public comment before Washer’s presentation, parent and teacher Sharon Greene said she had to speak out when it comes to the safety of her family and other students.
While she knows many want their students back in the classroom, she said the district and board need to work fairly and collaboratively with teachers and parents to come up with a safety plan that protects everyone on campus and in the home.
“Teachers must have, in-hand, the PPE being talked about before going back to any campus,” she said. “We need to make sure every piece of safety equipment is installed and ready to work before we return to school. We have to have a comprehensive safety plan that is well thought-out before we return to campus. I urge you, do not put my children and family in the direct path of this deadly pandemic.”
Parent Valerie Pennino favored returning to campus in November, stating students need the high quality education for which the district has come to be known.
She said she has seen many kids throughout Lodi social distancing and wearing masks around each other and older residents, and believed they would know how to conduct themselves in a safe manner back on campus.
“From what I’ve seen around town, many of our students are prepared to follow health and safety guidelines more than what most of us are led to believe,” she said. “They’re going out with friends, eating at local restaurants and frequenting local shops. They’re even going to youth camps. They’re ready, and they know what to do.”
Late Friday, superintendent Dr. Cathy Nichols-Washer issued a statement to parents that said the district had been planning for students to return to campus since they were closed in March.
Despite her strong support for returning to campus, Pennino asked Washer and the district to make the plan that’s been in the works since March available to the public.
Pennino noted that during last week’s special meeting, it was discussed that several school sites had developed their own plan. She said if the district’s plan is to have each individual site create its own health and safety protocols, then they need to be informed of that decision.
Board member George Neely said we completely supports returning to campus, but was concerned with the admission that social distancing isn’t feasible in the classroom.
“I can’t support any plan that doesn’t allow social distancing in class,” he said. “If we can’t do it, then we can’t do it. We either stick with what we’ve got, or modify we we’re trying to do.”
Neely quoted Saturday’s News-Sentinel story where County Public Health Officer Dr. Maggie Park said officials are still finding COVID-19 transmission is coming from large gatherings, as well as residents bringing the virus home.
He said officials are worried there is going to be a second surge of COVID-19, and the district should not put students and teachers at risk.
Neely suggested a modified return to school that would see special education students return to school no later than Nov. 2, and Kindergarten through third graders returning Nov. 9, so long as classes are not so large that they do not provide for social distancing.
In addition, he suggested grades 4-6 also return on Nov. 9, but with some sort of hybrid model in which students are only on campus limited days.
He suggested grades 7-12 remain on distance learning until the next semester.
“We need to look at students that need to get back to school the most,” he said.
The district has said it will not commit to a set schedule of return dates until it meets with its labor unions and discuss specific site plans. Staff will meet with the Lodi Education Association on Oct. 22.
Washer said she will keep employees and parents updated and information changes.