COVID-19 Update

CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS

The Lodi Unified School District Board of Education will hold a study session on May 28 to begin considering instruction options when students return to class in the fall.

The board received an update on planning for the 2020-21 academic school year during its regular meeting Tuesday night.

Dr. Cathy Nichols-Washer, the district’s superintendent, said planning is in the early stages, as three distance learning task forces for elementary, middle and high school levels began meeting in recent weeks to discuss instruction challenges that may be posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in September.

“We know everyone is anxious about getting definite decisions made,” Nichols-Washer said. “But we also know a lot can happen between now and the start of school, and we have to be able to be flexible. We don’t want to have one plan set and then have something change in terms of guidelines that will throw us back into the planning mode.”

The district began implementing distance learning in early April in response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call for Californians to shelter in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Since then, the district has announced campuses would be closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

Although Newsom has laid out a “Roadmap to Recovery” that details how California’s businesses, parks and schools can reopen, the district is unsure it can bring students back to campus in the fall.

Schools can reopen under Stage 3 of Newsom’s plan, which he has said could be weeks away.

Lisa Kowtowski, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said some of the concerns raised during the social distance task force meetings have included maintaining social distancing, the ability to clean classrooms after each period, and the lack of hot water at some campuses.

How teachers will be allowed to conduct classes — either having all students return to campus or implementing a hybrid system of a few days on campus and a few days online — remains to be seen, she said.

“Our thoughts of models would be to look at something that if we had to start really slow, based on how many students could be in a classroom, that we can expand with relatively little difficulty as more ease is given to students to attend school with the hope that eventually we could do school looking more like school, knowing that it will never come back to the way we have seen it in the past,” she said.

Board member George Neely said the district has to have more than one plan for instruction ready to use, given that the situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is changing constantly.

He added the district does not have to implement the same kind of new instruction in all grade levels, suggesting younger students in kindergarten through third grade might need to be in full classes, while classes for older students could be staggered so they don’t have to be on campus as much.

Conversely, he said because the district has already handed out distance learning technology to students this semester, it may be wise to continue that method of education for the fall.

“We need to have backups,” he said. “We don’t know what this is all going to be like two or three months down the road. There are a lot of possibilities out there. In the past when we’ve formed task forces, things have gone really slow, and we can’t afford to do that this time.”

The May 28 study session will begin at 6 p.m. on the district’s YouTube channel.

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