Local school officials review new state guidelines as they diligently prepare to reopen schools in August

By Ed Martin, Editor
Lemoore High School officials are working diligently to ensure that school will open - with safety measures - on time in August.
Lemoore High School officials are working diligently to ensure that school will open - with safety measures - on time in August.

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond indicated this week that the state’s 6.2 million public school students would return to school in the late summer or fall, and he suggested that kids and parents should expect a few changes.

That is, as long as the Coronavirus hangs around.

The state, on Monday (June 8), released guidelines designed to help school districts prepare for the reopening of schools. Lemoore’s school officials are studying the guidelines and determining just how Lemoore’s schools might look come August when schools typically begin.  

Expect to see lots of masks, social distancing on school buses, more distance- learning activities, and temperature checking. While districts can opt for their scheduling, based on the students’ needs, the state is offering examples of school schedules.

Thurmond, on Monday, released Stronger Together, A Guidebook for the Safe Reopening of California’s Public Schools.  He helped to lead a statewide reopening task force comprised of teachers, state and county health officials, the governor’s office, the Centers for Disease Control, superintendents, teachers, and others to put together a plan to continue the education of the state’s students.

“As we prepare to move into the likely reopening of our schools, we provide this guidance as a “how-to” for safely reopening our schools,” said Thurmond. “In it, you will find answers to many questions, including the need for physical distancing and types of recommended personal protective equipment. You’ll also learn ways that we will have to rearrange our staff and students to ensure that those who are opting for in-person instruction can do so safely.”

The report admits that the state’s guidebook is not a “one size fits all” document, but rather a message that considers the diverse nature of California’s vast school systems. Above all, the document stresses the importance of paying attention to the social and emotional well being of students, families, and staff.

Stronger Together Document

Lemoore’s schools, students, and staff may experience the benefits of education in quite different ways than say students in Fresno or Los Angeles.

The guidelines tackle the everyday modes of learning, offering everything from instructional scheduling models to dealing with social-emotional learning. The report also stresses the importance of working closely with local health officials in deciding to reopen safely. The California Department of Education (CDE) recommends all students and staff should wear cloth face coverings or face shields while at school or on a bus and maintain six feet of physical distance during school activities, all habits practiced by many Californians since the pandemic began several months ago.

The state plan covers just about all aspects of student learning, from providing possible instructional models to identifying resources for English learners and special education students. The state’s report offers examples of instructional learning but says schools, as long as they meet the learning needs of students, may provide their models as long they “focus on ensuring student learning and competency development” while considering students’ social and emotional well-being.

For example, the state’s guidelines cite several instructional scheduling model options, including one, referred to in the report as a “Two-Day Rotation Blended Learning Model,” which has students report to school for personal instruction on two designated days based on their grade level. For example, Monday and Wednesday for grades K-3, and Tuesday and Thursday for grade levels 4-6. On the other days, students are supposed to engage in enrichment opportunities through various programs, either on-site or with community partners.

In another example, half the student population attends in-person learning four full days per week while the other half is engaged in distance learning. Students would alternate each week. One day a week, all students would be engaged in distance learning, while teachers would use the time for collaborative planning and professional learning.

Other options include using cafeterias, gyms, and outside areas as makeshift classrooms to maintain a six-foot distance between students. Field trips and group events may be replaced with virtual activities.

Lemoore and Kings County schools are weighing the options as they take a look at the state’s new guidelines and begin the planning process for what is expected to be an interesting school year.

The Lemoore High School District posted a survey on its website recently, asking parents a series of questions relating to the challenges in scheduling the new school year, which typically begins in August.

The survey reminds parents that the “conditions by which we will reopen the school in the fall remain uncertain and will depend on the progress made in combating the COVID-19 virus and the health risks that remain.”

Lemoore High School Superintendent Debbie Muro for the past week has been working with staff to ensure that students can safely return to school on August 12. When students finally do return to school, they may be surprised.

Muro said over 500 parents responded to the survey. “They were kind of all over the place on what they want us to do,” said Muro.

“The best thing for kids is for them to be inside a classroom with teachers,” she continued, adding that with the social distancing, taking temperature readings every day, and certain budget cuts, creating a full proof plan can be difficult.

“The (state) guidelines create a need for more staff, yet we have to cut $1.5 million from our budget for next year,” she said.

“What we want is for everyone to be able to be in a classroom with a teacher. I don’t think it can be full time based on the guidelines. I think we’ll only be able to bring half of the kids back at a time on any given day and then to be able to socially distance them and get them on a bus,” she continued.

“We’re going to do the best we can to get the most kids to school as often as possible. That’s what we’re working on today.”

The first day of school is rapidly approaching. The school’s summer orientation – where students pick up their schedules and take ID photos – this year will likely be spread over three days and is usually the week before school opens.

School officials also have to factor in high school athletics as well. It appears that the CIF has canceled playoffs for the upcoming year, but league play will continue, but that will be as far as teams go. School officials have not determined yet what sports may be on the chopping block for his year.

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