It’s unlikely that Lodi Unified School District students will return to campus by mid-February, or even mid-March, as officials and school board members had hoped as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Safe Schools for All” grant program.
Chelsea Vongehr, spokeswoman for the district, said because the state legislature had not approved Newsom’s program by Feb. 1, there is no grant that would allow students to return to school in the coming weeks.
As a result, students will return to campus once San Joaquin County returns to the red tier of the California Department of Public Health’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, as laid out in a November memorandum of understanding between the district and the Lodi Education Association.
San Joaquin County is currently in the purple tier, and to advance to the red tier, its new COVID-19 case rate needs to be less than 7 new cases per 100,000 residents, and its case positivity rate and health equity rate both need to be less than 8%.
As of Thursday, the county’s new case rate was 40 per 100,000 residents, and its positivity rate was 10.9%. The health equity rate, which tracks case positivity among minorities and disadvantaged residents, was 13.2%.
During Tuesday’s LUSD Board of Education meeting, president Ron Freitas said the Safe Schools for All program was “dead in the water.”
“Our (bargaining) groups were troopers,” Freitas said. “We did submit on time — Feb. 1 — and that’s because four of our groups had signed, and the fifth was just about to. So that is absolutely amazing. We thank our bargaining groups for coming forward and working with us on this. We’ve been doing everything we can, and that we didn’t get this is absolutely through no fault of our own.”
Under Safe Schools for All program, districts that applied for a grant by Feb. 1 had the opportunity to allow students with special needs, homeless and foster youth, students without digital access and all students in grades kindergarten through second, back on campus.
In addition, districts had the opportunity to receive $450 per student based on average daily attendance — about $15.5 million for LUSD.
Students would have returned to campus by Feb. 15, or if a county’s new case rate fell below 28 per 100,000 residents, whichever came first.
While the district acknowledged San Joaquin County had a long way to reach that case rate, applying for the grant on time would have let students return as soon as that milestone had been reached.
On Wednesday, Newsom announced that he believes schools in California could begin the reopening process, even if all teachers had not been vaccinated and provided that proper safety measures and supports are in place.
“We can safely reopen schools as we process a prioritization to our teachers of vaccinations,” Newsom said.
“I’d love to have everybody in the state vaccinated that chooses to be vaccinated,” he said during a briefing held to announce the future opening of a new community vaccination center at the Oakland Coliseum. “Not only would I like to prioritize teachers, we are prioritizing teachers.”
LUSD superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer told the board Tuesday that the San Joaquin County Office of Education does not yet have firm dates as to when teachers can be vaccinated.
However, she said the agency was hoping to begin the vaccination process by mid-February.
“There are hopes still for this month, in the next few weeks or so,” Washer said. “And that wouldn’t just mean teachers, it would be for all employees, our substitutes, board members and charter schools.”
Last week, the district posted on its Facebook page the amount of personal protection equipment it has on hand in preparation for opening under the Safe Schools for All program.
According to the post, the district has nearly 79,000 reusable masks and nearly 270,000 disposable masks. It also has more than 43,000 boxes of medical gloves; 30,000 desk shields; nearly 24,000 bottles of hand sanitizer; nearly 34,000 reusable face shields; more than 10,000 disposable face shields; and nearly 5,500 thermometers.
Despite Newsom’s Wednesday announcement, Vongehr said the district will adhere to the MOU that was agreed upon with the LEA.
Under the MOU, once LUSD reopens in the red tier, a hybrid learning model will be implemented where half the students on each campus go to class on select days of the week, and have certain days of remote instruction.
Full-week distance learning will be provided to families who do not feel comfortable sending their children back to school.
Elementary school teachers will continue to serve all students assigned to their classes, including those who choose the distance learning option.
Teachers will be allowed to use their sick or personal time if they do not want to return to campus, and the district will consider transfers to remote work depending on availability of assignments and provided teachers present proper health documentation.
Teachers who are also caregivers for those with underlying health conditions or are impacted by COVID-19 will be considered for remote work on a case-by-case basis, the MOU states.
If San Joaquin County is assigned to the yellow tier for reopening, the district will implement a full return to in-person instruction. However, if the county is demoted to orange or red, the district will return to partial in-person instruction. If the county is assigned to purple again, the district will implement full distance learning, the MOU states.