COVID-19 Update

CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS

The deadline to enroll students in Lodi Unified School District’s distance learning program is today, and several parents have been hesitant to sign their children up for the alternate instruction because they say the district has not approved a concrete plan of action.

The district posted a reminder to enroll in distance learning on its Facebook page on Monday, and dozens of parents, as well as teachers, commented that the administration is being vague when it comes to specifics such as who will teach students, when children will be required to be online and how often.

“We can’t as parents take an important decision with the lack of information about the digital learning and the regular schedule in school,” Raneen Albrazy posted. “The district chooses the easiest way by asking us (to choose) between keeping our kids at home safely with limited information about digital learning or send them to school without social distance. These are very bad choices. What about hybrid learning? Why doesn’t the district offer it too? What about two shifts? It is impossible to take this decision by July10.”

During its June 25 special meeting, the district’s board of education opted to favor a complete return to school in August, with the condition that various health and safety measures are in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The board also favored providing a distance learning option for families who are not comfortable sending their students back to campus during the pandemic.

Students who enroll in the program will be assigned to their home school site for the 2020-21 school year. Elementary school students will receive instruction based on district curriculum taught by Lodi Unified teachers.

Middle school students can choose a school site’s digital academy or independent study when enrolling. School staff will contact families to choose the best option.

High school students can take a full distance schedule or choose to enroll in specialty programs on campus such as Career Technical Education. Most Advanced Placement and honors courses will be offered digitally. Courses will be taught by Lodi Unified teachers, while some instruction might be offered via a third-party platform such as Pearson, APEX, Cyber High and others.

Some parents, including Kellie Markle Tanaka, questioned Dr. Cathy Nichols Washer, the district’s superintendent, directly on the post. Tanaka asked how the superintendent expected parents to feel comfortable signing children up for distance learning when no direction as to how it will be executed has been given.

“We do not know who will teach our children, what the structure or format will be and what curriculum will be taught,” she said.

Bri Serrano, a kindergarten teacher for the district, questioned how many students will actually be inside her classroom come Aug. 3, and whether or not she has the option to teach from home. She also wanted to know whether those students who choose distance learning will be required to be online a full five days, and for how many hours.

“We are three weeks out from school starting for teachers and four weeks out for students,” she commented. “It seems impossible for Lodi Unified to require families and teachers to decide, when we still do not know what the plan entails. What (personal protective equipment) has been acquired for me to feel safe returning to work? What safety procedures have been put in place? How can we decide when we don’t know what each plan looks like? I know many families feel the same way as I do as a teacher. This is very disheartening.”

On July 1, the district posted a collection of frequently asked questions on its Facebook page to answer some of the concerns aired by parents and teachers.

The district said there is a team of teachers from each grade level currently developing a distance learning framework, using current curriculum.

Kindergarten students will be required to fill 180 minutes of distance learning, while students in first through third grade will need to use 230 minutes. Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students will have 240 minutes of distance learning.

Instruction time will be based on the time value of assignments as determined by the teacher, the district said.

Middle school students will be able to offer classes online, and most high school courses will be provided digitally, with the exception of specific programs such as Career Technical Education, the district said.

Each school site will create its own health and safety protocol that addresses arrival, dismissal, recess and lunch, the district said. However, hand sanitizer and no-touch thermometers have been purchased, as have face masks and shields for teachers. Some 200 hand-washing stations are expected to be installed at each school by the first day of school as well.

In addition, each school will provide disposable masks to students who forget theirs at home, and there will be frequent sanitization at each campus. Parents will be asked to screen their children for COVID-19 symptoms each morning before school.

However, the district admitted in its FAQs that social distancing, one of the guidelines frequently promoted by health officials, will be impossible with all students returning to a classroom.

Returning to school full-time without social distancing made no sense, parent Heather Garcia said.

“If there’s no physical distancing in the classrooms and there will be a shut down if there is a positive COVID-19 test, then what is the plan? Will the entire school be shut down for two weeks? Will just the classroom be shut down for two weeks? Will the class/classes be immediately converted to distance learning for that two-week period? Parents need more information so we can plan,” she said. “We understand that you don’t know what the exact situation will be in August, but we need to be informed of your contingency plans so we can develop our own contingency plans.”

In its FAQ, the district said it would seek guidance from San Joaquin County Public Health Services if someone on campus tests positive for COVID-19. Thorough cleaning would occur, the district said, and students may be placed in distance learning for two weeks.

Parent Kate Bautch works in the health care industry, and commented that returning to school without social distancing — as well as not requiring masks to be worn — endangers not only students, but district staff.

“The only response to these concerns when they have been raised is, ‘You always have the option of distance learning,’ but we have not been given any information regarding what that distance learning will be comprised of,” she said. “With this information lacking, you are putting parents in a terrible position, especially those of us with children who have compromised immune systems. It is simply impossible to make these commitments when there is not more information forthcoming.”

Chelsea Vongehr, spokeswoman for the district, said administrative officials would not have any information about the distance learning framework available until after Friday, when applicants for the program are reviewed.

However, the board is aware of the inability for students to social distance if classrooms are full, and that it will be monitoring the situation as the pandemic improves or worsens, she said.

“The board acknowledges that the health pandemic presents a fluid environment and that changes in operation levels may be needed depending on the situation,” she said.

The board of education will receive another update on health and safety measures to begin the new year from Nichols Washer at its July 14 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. The meeting can be viewed on the district’s YouTube channel.

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