Snowline Schools Must Begin School Year With Distance Learning
Governor Gavin Newsom announced today, July 17, 2020, that school districts within counties that have been on the State’s County Monitoring List for 14 or more days are mandated to begin the 2020-21 school year by distance learning. San Bernardino County has been on the Monitoring list since June 26. Districts within counties that are not on the watchlist may open for in-person schooling at their discretion.
During the Governor’s daily news briefing Newsom detailed “California’s Pandemic Plan for Schools.” The plan calls for the use of health data to determine if schools can physically open and only when its county has been off the Monitoring list for 14 consecutive days. Schools that don’t meet this requirement must begin the school year distance learning.
Snowline Superintendent Dr. Ryan Holman Ed.D said, in response to the announcement, “Governor Newsom’s announcement of the new state school reopening guidelines results in the Snowline JUSD and all others in San Bernardino County having to reopen with distance learning options only. This means that no in-person learning models are allowed until San Bernardino County is off the state’s watchlist for 14 straight days.”
The reopening guidelines require all school staff and students in third grade and above to wear masks, students in second grade and below are encouraged to wear masks or face shields. Staff must maintain six feet between each other and with students. Schools must also perform symptom checks, provide handwashing stations, have a sanitation and disinfection plan, and develop quarantine protocols. The state is also requiring that different cohorts of staff are tested on a rotating basis. The state will also utilize the state contact tracing workforce by making schools a priority if contact tracing is needed to help mitigate the spread within a particular school or district.
For distance learning, the state is also requiring schools to provide access to devices and connectivity for all students. Students must also have live daily interaction with teachers and other students. Assignments must be challenging, the equivalent to in-person classes. And lessons need to be adapted for English language learners and special education students.
Guidelines were also established to outline when in-person learning should close. Schools should first consult with a public health officer. Additionally, any classroom cohort will have to go home when there is a confirmed case within that cohort. An entire school must close when multiple cohorts have cases or more than 5% of the school tests positive. Lastly, a district must close if 25% of their schools are closed within a 14-day period.
At Tuesday’s Snowline Board of Trustees meeting, staff presented an outline of the district’s plan for starting the 2020-21 school year in August. It consisted of three options, in-person learning, distance learning, and homeschooling. The trustees gave staff direction to move forward with the options that staff felt were the best for Snowline staff, teachers, parents, and students. Several prior surveys had been issued to parents, students, staff, and teachers seeking input about their preferred method of learning, student safety, and other COVID-19 related topics. Over 50% said they preferred a return to traditional in-person learning, with 16% preferring distance learning, 10% preferring homeschool, and almost 20% preferring a hybrid or blended option. Over 10,000 responses were logged over the series of surveys, a record number.
With the three options presented by Superintendent Holman, distance learning was the fallback option should the district be required to close in-person learning. Snowline has taken what they learned from the distance learning program that was set up at the end of the 2020 school year and further developed a much more refined and appropriate program suited for a long term option. In developing their reopening plan, Snowline has already addressed many of the requirements issued by and included in today’s press briefing.
While Snowline will continue to move forward with developing a plan with alternate options for learning during the pandemic, for the time being, and until the spread of the virus is flattened, students will remain at home learning from a distance. “While this is disappointing in that getting all of our students back to school safely is so important, I understand why the mandatory action was taken. I am reminded that we must work together as the entire Snowline learning community to wear masks, physically distance and practice all other safety precautions to significantly slow COVID-19 spread so our children can get back to in-person learning. Together truly is better,” said Holman.