The Lodi Unified School District will receive some assistance this week with ideas about how to reopen and welcome students and teachers back to campus in the fall.
The San Joaquin County Office of Education will be issuing its guidance for school districts to reopen later this week, according to spokesman Zack Johnson.
“The SJCOE has been coordinating closely with district superintendents and San Joaquin County Public Health Services while waiting for guidance from the state,” Johnson said. “With the recent release of guidance from the state, districts and the SJCOE have continued to coordinate with our county public health officer in preparation to begin the new school year in a way that is safe for students, staff, families, and the community.”
According to LUSD Board of Education members, approving a plan for reopening in Lodi has been dependent on direction from SJCOE, which in turn has been waiting on its own guidance from the California Department of Education.
“The recommendations that have come down from the state are really not helpful at all,” LUSD board member Ron Heberle said. “And they are just recommendations, which we can choose to follow or not. I see (the recommendations) as pushing off their responsibility. It’s like they’re washing their hands of the whole mess and putting it all on the districts.”
Guidance from the state, which can be found online at covid19.ca.gov/pdf/
guidance-schools.pdf, is a 14-page document recommending districts teach and reinforce hygiene practice and wearing facial coverings; limiting the use of playground amenities; limiting the sharing of objects, and supplies; maximizing space between students; and modifying drop-off and pick-up times, among other guidelines.
With 28,294 students and 3,372 staff members, how LUSD will be able to implement those guidelines and some recommendations from three task forces at its 50 campuses and 1,520 classrooms remains to be seen. The board is set to discuss the district’s plan for reopening at its Tuesday meeting.
Options are to continue strictly with distance learning, or to implement a hybrid of in-person instruction and remote teaching.
According to Tuesday’s staff report, 200 hand washing stations have been ordered and will be installed in high-traffic areas of each campus.
Clear shields are being installed in all offices, and staff will routinely clean objects and surfaces with disinfectant spray.
In addition, the district has ordered 10,000 disposable face masks, as well as 4,000 cloth masks and 4,000 face shields. The district acknowledged that it does not have masks or coverings for all of its students.
Following state guidance, the district will be monitoring each student who arrives on campus at the beginning of each day. Those showing COVID-19 symptoms will be told to return home.
Total student enrollment in 2020-2021 is projected to be 27,887, and half of those students will be returning to campus twice a week if the district chooses hybrid instruction.
At the high school level, students would be divided into two groups and attend class two alternate days of the week. Students would participate in distance learning another two days.
All students would have distance learning instruction on the fifth day of the week, most likely Friday. That day would also be used as a preparation day for teachers and staff.
For elementary schools, the two groups of students would attend class two consecutive days and participate remotely another two consecutive days.
The fifth day of the week would also be used for distance learning and teacher preparation time.
If students do return to campus for limited days in the fall, the district could change its meal service plan as well. Suggestions the board will consider include having lunch in classrooms or outdoors as space permits. Lunch times may also be staggered throughout the day for a certain amount of students.
Transportation for students may also see a change in the fall, as the district is suggesting less than 20 children on a bus at any given time. Buses might only be available for those students who live outside their school’s five-mile radius, or for those students with transportation identified as a need in an individualized education program within the district.
Another proposal is to enact assigned seating for students on the bus to ensure social distancing.
Michelle Orgon, Lodi Education Association president, said the task force suggestions present a number of challenges, concerns and unanswered questions for teachers.
Some of those concerns include what happens if a teacher or student is quarantined or falls ill, or cleaning a classroom when food is spilled on the carpet during the proposed lunch time in class, among others, she said.
“While teachers want to be back in the classroom with their students, we need to address safety measures for all,” she said. “We ask that district leadership comes together with all bargaining units to finalize a comprehensive plan for the coming school year as all working conditions have changed due to COVID-19 and the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Orgon added that it did not seem possible to ask instructors to teach students in-person for a full day, and then transition to distance learning all in one day, and it will be extremely difficult to ensure students maintain six feet of social distancing.
“First, all classrooms and hallways are not the same size and shape and ventilation varies,” she said. “Next, school is social interaction by the mere nature of it. Part of teaching elementary students is building relationships and that will be difficult six feet away for a five year old.”
Heberle said he’d like to see the district open up 100%, but with some modifications that allow students to both receive the instruction they need and keep them safe.
“One modification would be to have an Internet-based teaching model for those students who just don’t feel comfortable coming back to campus,” he said. “And the other has to do with safety. We can place portable washing stations on campus, and teach students the importance of hygiene. These are what we need to provide the best educational and safe experience for students, and I think it’s the best thing we can do moving forward.”
He said determining how teachers will be able to handle a schedule that has never been tested is something the distance learning task forces are currently discussing to bring to the board in the coming weeks.
And while state guidelines recommend frequently sanitizing surfaces and objects that are touched throughout the day, Heberle said that shouldn’t be a problem for students or staff.
Frequently touched surfaces at school, according to CDPH, include door handles, light switches, sink handles, bathroom amenities, tables, student desks and chairs, among others.
“Rooms, and even our buses, get sanitized every day by the custodial staff,” he said. “But if everybody did just a little bit, it would help staff a lot to keep everything clean.”
Board member Gary Knackstedt said it was difficult to know what will be challenging in the fall, unless he state and county provided requirements rather than recommendations for districts.
“The biggest challenge, for me, is that the state is calling some of these things guidelines, but there really isn’t any guidance,” he said. “Nobody wants to take any responsibility. If they would just tell us that we have to do this, and have to do that, then we’d follow what they said and we wouldn’t have to spend meetings trying to figure things out for ourselves.”
Knackstedt acknowledged it will be difficult for teachers and students to completely follow any recommendations or requirements approved before school starts on Aug. 3.
He said while some of the recommendations provided by the state are good ideas, he didn’t think those who came up with them had ever been in a classroom to observe a teacher at work.
“A few years back it was decided that kids couldn’t wear hats to school, because it had something to do with gangs,” he said. “We had a very hard time trying to get kids not to wear them to school. I don’t know how our teachers will be able to handle this. But it’s something we’ve go to figure out.”
Tuesday’s meeting begins at 7 p.m., and can be viewed on the district’s YouTube and Facebook pages. The full agenda can be viewed online at