Most County Schools Leaning Toward Combining In-Classroom & At-Home Instruction This Year

As things stand at present, it appears that the 2020-21 school year in most of San Bernardino County’s 33 school districts will begin under a format that is closer to the traditional learning model of students being educated in classrooms than what was the case when the 2019-20 school year drew to a close. Still the same, the return to normalcy will not be complete.
Because of state and local public health orders and mandates, classroom instruction ended in all of the county’s public schools toward the end of March or no later than the beginning of April. The schools remained closed for the remainder of the school year, with a different intensity of remote instruction taking place among faculty and students from district to district, from school to school and from teacher to teacher.
The vast majority of the districts in the county are now firming up their strategies for instruction that will very likely see most students return to their classrooms for two to three days a week when the 2020-21 year begins in August.
Normal school function with students in place at their schools on all five weekdays is being contemplated in only a handful of the districts contacted by the Sentinel.
Rather, what is being called a “hybrid model,” which will keep students at home two to three days a week where they are to be engaged in a structured and formalistic distant or remote learning process, one which is intended to represent a refinement of the program that was in effect during the last three months of the 2019-2020 school year, will be followed in most districts.
Some districts have made commitments on the hybrid concept while others have previewed it to their school boards, which have yet to sign off on it.
Within the last month there has been a pronounced upsurge in confirmed coronavirus cases throughout San Bernardino County. If that trend continues, there is yet the very real possibility that several, a majority, or all of the districts will move to a complete remote learning model once again.
The school districts in San Bernardino County, like their counterparts throughout California, are negotiating the straits between the demands of educating their charges and maintaining the health and safety of students and staff members in the face of the potentially deadly COVID-19 virus.
In a dated mandate, the state called upon districts to provide their students with at least some level of in-person instruction. It is not clear whether that mandate is yet operative, given the flare-up of recent COVID-19 outbreaks.
There are variances in how the hybrid plan will be put into practice.
Tentatively in the Fontana Unified School District, for example, half of a given school’s students are to attend classes at the school on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the other half will be engaged at home in distance learning. All students would remain at home on Wednesdays, when classrooms would be thoroughly cleaned. The students who were engaged in remote learning on Monday and Tuesday would then attend classes at the school sites on Thursdays and Fridays and the remaining students would undergo at-home distance learning. Arrangements are to be made for any students who wish to meet with teachers on days they are not in the classroom. The district is to also allow parents to access on-line learning materials so they can serve as supplemental instructors to their children.
The Fontana district has not fully committed to the plan, but it appears purposed to do so. Word is that district officials will put it tentatively in place to see how it works out.
The Sentinel was provided with a hybrid instructional plan for another unspecified school district in the county. In that district, the Sentinel was informed, students with their last names beginning A-to-M will attend school on Monday and Wednesdays and every other Friday. Students with last names beginning N-to-Z will attend school on Tuesdays and Thursdays and every other Friday. The reason for that arrangement is to keep families together. Single student families and multiple student families may be moved to opposite days at the district’s discretion, as the district attempts to balance numbers district-wide. Distance learning is to take place on the days students are not on campus. Attendance is to be taken daily for all students, on campus or not, and assignments are to be graded. The methods for remote instruction are to include but not be limited to Google Classroom and Zoom. Students will be required to wear masks and will have their temperatures checked daily. They will not be permitted to use playground or gym equipment.
In the Fontana Unified School District, parents were recently surveyed with regard to their concerns over exposing their children to the coronavirus in a school setting. Roughly 20 percent of the responding parents, the district reported, indicated they would rather their children not go to a school site at any time until the danger of contracting the condition has passed.
Educational professionals have opined that given the limitations and lack of refinement and standardization with remote learning, the traditional five-day in-class school week model offers the best educational opportunity for the vast majority of students. Despite recent research that indicates school-age children make poor carriers of COVID-19 and are therefore not likely to be contagious, the sheer numbers of students attending school on most campuses raises the specter of schools spreading the contagion to one degree or another. For that reason, distant learning is considered a viable methodology for maintaining the learning process in the current environment.
Complicating the matter is that on Wednesday, President Donald Trump used the Twitter communication mode to threaten to withhold federal funds from any of the nation’s schools that don’t reopen in the upcoming school year, even if the rationale for maintaining closure is the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November election, but is important for the children & families. [I] May cut off funding if not open!” the president tweeted.
It is unclear whether the president’s executive authority enables him to withhold funds already appropriated by Congress for use by the nation’s schools. Federal funding comprises less than ten percent of the money utilized by public schools in California.
There are a number of educators, including ones who affiliate with the Democratic Party, who share the president’s belief that the earliest return to a traditional classroom setting is important, and that allowing school-age children to adapt to a lifestyle that does not involve the structure of a formal educational setting will result in undesirable results for those students both as they mature and in their future academic pursuits.
One district where it appears students will attend school five days a week is the Colton Joint Unified School District. On that district’s website, Dr. Frank Miranda, who was appointed superintendent to succeed Jerry Armendarez after the latter’s abrupt leave-taking to accept the position of superintendent with the Santa Ana Unified School District in November 2019, states that he intends to make “regular visits to school sites, including attending special school events and visiting classrooms with union leaders, executive cabinet, directors and/or board members” and to conduct “Thursdays with Dr. Miranda” events, “where I will ask individual schools to provide me with a space on campus where I will spend a couple of hours.”
Christine McGrew, the official spokeswoman for San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools Ted Alejandre, yesterday told the Sentinel that how each of the county’s 33 school districts will structure their curricula and education modes “is basically a decision each of the districts have to make. The majority have included in their reopening plan different options to include the traditional learning environment, a distant learning option and a hybrid option that includes both distant learning and some limited classroom time for all students, with each student attending class on a reduced basis. That is basically what a majority of the school districts are doing.”
Deadlines for the districts to determine exactly how their schools will operate are approaching, McGrew said, and district officials are cataloging the options to be laid out to the various districts’ boards.
“Recently the San Bernardino Unified School District made a determination they would begin the school year with a distant learning approach,” McGrew said. “In terms of a deadline for making those decisions, the school districts have their school years set to begin from August 3 to August 26. Once each district’s plans are completed, they are being presented to the individual boards for approval.”
The plans could change if the circumstance so dictate, she said.
“If there is a second wave of the pandemic, safety is a priority,” McGrew said. “Based on what the state and local public health departments’ directions are, the decisions on whether to close the schools will be made, but we’re not there yet.”
The president’s recent threat to withhold funding if the schools are not reopened has not changed the dialog on how classes will be conducted, McGrew said.
“I don’t think the president’s statements are impacting the decisions,” she said. “The decision-making process for the districts has already advanced. As you know, California finalized its funding agreements with schools at the end of June, so the districts are planning based on that agreement. They are moving forward out of the best interests of their students’ and staffs’ safety and health. Those are the top priorities, and then, of course, the learning program. I don’t think the president’s comments are impacting the districts’ decisions.”
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply