During a special meeting Tuesday night, the Lodi Unified School District Board of Education favored a phased-in return to in-person instruction, to begin in as little as two and a half weeks.
Dr. Cathy Nichols-Washer, the school district’s superintendent, presented three plans for re-opening campuses as San Joaquin County completes two weeks in the red tier of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest blueprint for a safer economy.
The phased-in approach could see all special day classes, such as special education, continuation high schools and the Valley Robotics Academy, returning to campus on Nov. 2.
All elementary schools would return to full, in-person instruction on Nov. 9, while middle schools would return Nov. 16.
All comprehensive high schools — Bear Creek, Lodi, McNair and Tokay — would return to campus at the beginning of the spring semester, as well as Lincoln Technical Academy.
Washer will bring a more detailed plan about reopening and returning to campus to the board at its Oct. 20 meeting.
She said the district would be fully prepared for a complete return to campus, as it has stockpiled personal protective equipment including hand sanitizer, face coverings, disinfectant supplies, no-touch thermometers and hand washing stations, among other items.
The district will be ordering some 30,000 plastic desk shields for students and teachers, a portable air system for each classroom, and hand sanitizer devices for each bus.
Lisa Wilkins is a science teacher in the district, and said while she would like to come back to campus, she’d like to follow a hybrid model that was discussed over the summer.
The hybrid model would split students on all campuses into two groups, one of which would attend class on Monday and Tuesday, then participate in distance learning Thursdays and Fridays.
The second group would attend class Thursdays and Fridays, and participate in distance learning Mondays and Tuesdays.
All students in the district would participate in distance learning on Wednesdays.
Wilkins said many teachers have been given minimal amounts of personal protective equipment, such as one mask, one disinfectant bottle and two rolls of paper towels. She said it wasn’t enough to ensure staff and students are protected from COVID-19.
“Where is the science behind going back to school full time? If we go back, we should go back small,” Wilkins said. “We need to look at what’s going on at other districts. Look at New York, they opened schools in New York and had to shut down within weeks because of increased infection rates. I want to go back, but I want to do it when we make sure we do it right, we do it faithfully and we have all our ducks in a row.”
Parent Jessica Hillskotter supported a full, five days a week return to schools for all grades in the district. She said her youngest child received low grades for the first time in his educational career, and was told by a teacher that students would have higher grades if they were back on campus.
“Now we’re in the red tier, and our kids have suffered enough,” she said. “I’ve seen my kids struggle academically and emotionally, and I don’t want to see that happen again. We’ve tried distance learning, and it has failed elementary students. Yes, teachers have well thought-out slides to show on Zoom, but that’s not how kids learn. You need to stop this madness before you make students regress more than they already have.”
Parent Tom Moccia said he and other parents in the district have been very patient, and that distance learning and webinars were not ideal for students to get an education.
Moccia thought the district could go back to campus immediately after the current school break, given it has had nearly eight months to prepare classrooms.
“I’ve sat in on multiple classes, and although some students are doing well, distance learning is far from working, even thought we’ve tried our best,” he said. “We have more than 30 schools in the county going back to full-time learning because of waivers. I don’t know why there’s a question as to why we shouldn’t go back to full-time, in person learning.”
Because there were about two dozen speakers during the public comment portion of the meeting, the board was unable to give district staff final direction before deadline.