At last night’s meeting, the Northern Humboldt Unified School District’s School Board voiced its support of the staff’s current plans to move forward with a virtual-learning start to the school year, and a possible switch to a hybridized school year after reviewing the situation about six weeks in.
District Superintendent Roger Macdonald gave the board an overview of the current plan, which will face a final vote at its August 11 meeting.
Macdonald said the preparation for the upcoming school year has been in the works since June, and the school district has plans that range from virtual learning to a hybrid of virtual and in-person to a fully in-person school year. Macdonald acknowledged that there are a wide variety of opinions out there when it comes to how the school year should proceed, and he wanted to reassure parents that quality of education will not suffer.
“We are not giving up and hitting the pause button, we are going full force forward to provide the very best education we can for our kids,” Macdonald said during the meeting. “Our teachers have been working hard in this process, and they will be working even harder with more support going forward.”
Macdonald said NHUSD is working on getting a district Zoom license, more Google Chromebooks, more internet accessibility devices for students in rural areas, implementing TurnItIn (an online plagiarism checking service) and increasing its data capacity with Synergy — a cloud-based data management system that seeks to “improve administrative processes and learning outcomes without the hassle of third-party system integrations,” according to its website.
When it comes to the issue of Chromebooks, Macdonald said he was told back in March that the district would be getting 300 Chromebooks from the state — but they have yet to materialize.
“We’ve got none of that,” Macdonald said. “There was a big statement in June that schools were going to get 60 days [worth] of PPE for faculty and students. Well, I just received that last week… and what essentially we received from OES through the state is two paper masks and two cloth masks per student and staff member. That will not last 60 days.”
Concerns were also expressed about the learning loss for Life Skills students, English as a Second Language students, foster youth and homeless students. Macdonald said there are plans in the works to specifically address the needs of these students, such as having in-person classes for them, but nothing solid was readily available as of last night’s meeting.
When it comes to what the everyday life of a student will look like in the fall, Macdonald said students will be expected to check in everyday.
“You will have daily live interaction with your teachers and peers,” Macdonald said.
The drafting of the district’s plans involved input from 40 people, including administrators, instructional aides, custodians, teachers and secretaries. JoAnn Moore, bargaining chair for the NHUSD Teachers Association, gave a presentation that highlighted responses from 70 teachers in the school district. Moore’s surveys found that 94 percent of the respondents feel that the pandemic is worse now than it was in the fall, 79 percent feel unsafe about returning to school with in person instruction and only 70 percent said they are willing to get tested on a routine basis, which “complicates the issue of safety,” Moore said.
Also included in Moore’s survey was the question of how a teacher prefers to reopen: 46 percent said they want to reopen with a majority of distance learning with very few face-to-face interactions, while 43 percent said they want a full distance-learning experience.
“Teachers want to work in person, but not [at the expense of] their health,” Moore said.
When it came to sports, Macdonald said
the district is playing with the idea of allowing a student to play just one sport (see clarification note below). The earliest sports would begin is in December, which would still include a typical three-season approach.
“Sports will only start when it is safe to start,” Macdonald said.
CLARIFICATION: We accidentally misquoted Roger Macdonald who actually said, “That I was hoping that students could play more than one sport when it is safe to do so.” We regret the error.
Elsewhere, Fortuna Union School District voted definitively to hold in-person classes last night at a monster five-hour long meeting that had as many as 175 people tuning in. Trustees Charles Ellebrecht (president), Seth McGrath (vice-president) and Carla Diaz voted in favor of holding in-person classes this upcoming school year while Trustees Anita Gage and Jeana McClendon voted against it.
Ellebrecht told the Outpost the decision was hard to make, and that the topic and vote was “unprecedented.” He said that his vote in favor of in-person classes was based on the view that there is more to the decision than just the pandemic itself. He considered mental and physical impacts virtual learning could have on students.
“A lot of these students come from families that aren’t the most supportive, and these educators are, unfortunately, all they have,” Ellebrecht said, adding that child abuse affects many of the students.
When asked about contingency plans in case of an outbreak, Ellebrecht said there are plans in place, that educators have done a good job of being flexible and that the upcoming school year will have a block schedule to limit the number of students traveling throughout the school during the day.
Inma Thompson, president of the Fortuna Union School District Teachers Association, was not pleased with the vote. She said that according to a poll taken by the Teachers Association, 83 percent voted in favor of virtual learning.
“The district has not worked well with us this whole time,” Thompson told the Outpost. “I have already heard from many members and they still want distance-learning. They are not happy with the solution that was given last night.”
She said that teachers will be responsible for cleaning desks in between class periods and will have only about 10 minutes to do so. She is also concerned about ventilation in the classrooms and the frequency in which the bathrooms will be cleaned — once a day — and the number of students in the classroom — anywhere between 25 to 35, according to Thompson.
Thompson herself has two children that will be attending the high school and is concerned not only as a teacher, but as a parent as well.
“That’s three-quarters of my family at the high school, and it concerns me,” Thompson said. “I don’t think it’s safe.”
When asked about the teacher cleaning schedule (the 10 minutes in between classes), Ellebrecht initially said it wasn’t correct before he laid out pretty much the same plan that Thompson described. He said the school days traditionally consisted of six periods, but that has been shortened to two periods a day and that each school site may vary slightly.
For Fortuna High, the plan is to have a period from 8:20 a.m. to 10:35 a.m. and then a 20-minute break in which teachers are expected to wipe down all desks. The next period lasts from 10:55 a.m. to 1:10 and then a 20-minute lunch period after which students will leave for the day.
When asked if 10 minutes is a sufficient amount of time for teachers to clean a classroom for 25 to 30 students, Ellebrecht said, “I think it may be subject to change and the situation is still fluid, but at this point it is my opinion that it is.
“If it isn’t sufficient, we can make up additional time,” Ellebrecht said, adding that the elimination of classes is to limit the amount of contact between students and teachers. “We are limiting it to these two periods so that if there ends up being a situation where COVID arrives amongst the cohorts that it is limited to the best extent that it can be.”
Ellebrecht was then asked about where blame should be placed — where the “buck stops” — if there is an outbreak and the public wants to point fingers at the school board. He said that parents will still have the option to not bring their students back for in-person classes if they don’t want to.
“As far as an outbreak, it is important to realize that COVID is out there everywhere in our community,” Ellebrecht said. “Just walking into the grocery store there is a chance of catching COVID-19, but there are some things that are essential… and I think education is essential. Ultimately, these teachers are essential services, education is an essential service that needs to be provided.”
Thompson, on the other hand, is concerned about what an outbreak would mean to the county itself. She brought up the fact that Humboldt County is currently on Alert Level Three and that Level Four would bring a whole new amount of restrictions — some of which would be distance learning.
“If we are going to do that, back and forth throughout the year, that is not very stable for students,” Thompson said. “That structure and stability is not good for students.”