The final implementation plan for reopening Pleasanton Unified School District to students in fall is still emerging, but it became clearer how that strategy might look and operate at the Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday evening.
Three options for student learning in the 2020-21 school year are part of the reopening plan still being fine-tuned before being finalized for board approval in mid-July, but staff told the trustees that the success of each is dependent on paying close attention to details.
Sending their child to school in person on a staggered schedule several days per week was the most popular scenario chosen by 89% of respondents for a recent pre-registration intent data form, which also included a flexible hybrid option and the district's long-term independent study program, but it could also be the most challenging.
With most Pleasanton classrooms averaging around 960 square feet of total space, accommodating enough students while maintaining physical distance is one of the biggest considerations for reopening all 15 campuses.
Desks must be six feet apart and "arranged in a way that minimizes face-to-face contact," according to Alameda County Public Health Department guidelines, but Ed Diolazo, assistant superintendent of student support services, said there are some exemptions to relax the distancing.
"If we have stable cohorts, consistent cohorts of students, then that actually would allow for five feet of distance," Diolazo said. "That one foot actually changes the number of kids we can plan for in specific classrooms."
Staff estimated that 12 to 18 students could fit in a classroom, depending on the furniture layout and other factors. However, they also said wearing face masks and keeping students in the same groups must be higher priorities if less than six feet of distance is needed.
"There is no number for the size of groups so, as practical, students should remain in the same space and in the same groups as small and as consistent as possible," Diolazo added. New students could also be added to a cohort after it has been established for at least four weeks.
County health officials encourage keeping students in the same space or groups "as small and as consistent as possible," but recently gave teachers leeway to instruct multiple groups of students as long as they practice physical distancing and personal care protocol.
"Teachers can join different cohorts of kids, which makes sense in our secondary programs where teachers could potentially be teaching different classrooms and different groups of children," Diolazo said.
All students and staff would be required to wear face masks unless exempted by age or special needs. In lieu of a cloth face mask, a face shield would be permissible.
Additionally, everyone would need to self-screen at home or before entering any buildings. Anyone unable to do so before stepping on campus would have to provide an onsite visual or temperature screening.
District staff and faculty members also previously gave feedback indicating that hiring more staff to support custodians and daily cleanings on campus to ensure health and safety were top priorities for reopening.
Trustee Joan Laursen asked, "How's that going to work for families who both need to work and students are only coming to school two days a week" if the district is still obligated to provide childcare for essential workers?
Diolazo replied that Gov. Gavin Newsom's order was to provide emergency childcare to essential workers during school hours from March 13 through the end of the school year.
"It sounds like parents are on their own," Laursen said. "Based on the numbers of intent of families who might be interested in long-term independent study or FLEX Academy, is it possible that we could have room and sufficient staff to have the remaining students in school on somewhat of an everyday normal basis?"
Assistant superintendent Janelle Woodward told Laursen, "It would depend on staff and many other things. We're absolutely open to utilizing our available resources to support our families. Can we do it at the level of all students all the time -- I don't know that we can hit that capacity."
Trustee Jamie Yee noted that with many parents working from home, the district's previous numbers on childcare could be outdated by this point and asked if a childcare question was presented on the data form.
"When we just think about our normal childcare situation, we have, what, 800 kids on a waitlist," Yee said. "We actually don't know who needs childcare at all, so I don't think you can plan the childcare thing unless you know who needs childcare."
Diolazo said the district "may have an opportunity to expand our childcare services" but that first "we need to figure out what the facility would need to look like."
The passage of the state budget omnibus bill last week has presented what Superintendent David Haglund called "a significant issue" in a letter addressing the PUSD community on Monday. Haglund said that Assembly Bill 77 "included language that may restrict a district's ability to offer a full-time distance learning option for students."
"We, along with districts across the state, are seeking clarification of this language," Haglund said. "Until we receive clear guidance on what is (and is not) allowed, we will move forward as if the option to incorporate distance and virtual learning is fully available to our families and staff."
In addition to the hybrid model with some in-person learning several times a week, the district also plans to offer a distance learning option that's facilitated through long-term independent study, and an enhanced virtual instructional model called the FLEX Academy.
The FLEX Academy would be taught by PUSD teachers and follow the same course outlines used in their traditional school. Students in grades six through 12 enrolled in the FLEX Academy would still be enrolled at their current school and receive instruction through online portals such as Zoom and Google Classroom.
Foothill and Amador Valley high schools' students would be able to participate in their school's athletic programs following guidelines from the California Interscholastic Federation, the state's governing body for high school sports. All students will also be permitted to participate in extracurricular activities like music, drama and other clubs at their school.
Students opting for independent study would remain concurrently enrolled in their current school and have a contract outlining their standards and expectations. Failure to maintain adequate progress would result in returning to a "seat-based" program, per state education code.
At the elementary level, students unable to attend school in-person for medical reasons will be offered a distance learning program "that would be held at each respective elementary school based upon need and staffing," PUSD officials said. This option would let students remain at their home schools with their own teacher for the entire year.
Regardless of what option is chosen, the district said all PUSD students will be assigned a Chromebook at the start of the year and receive scheduled check-ins by teachers and regular grades. Special education students will have access to all of the learning models, as guided by their individualized education plan team and process.
The new school year is scheduled to begin Aug. 11; the district will start contacting families that wish to enroll in FLEX or long-term independent study in the near future. Reopening recommendations will be prepared for board approval on July 14.