The San Bernardino Unified School District (SBCUSD) board gathered for its regular virtual meeting on Tuesday night, June 16, when they discussed two options for reopening schools in August.

Assistant Superintendent of Continuous Improvement Rachel Monarrez presented two options for the reopening of school campuses for the 2020-21 academic school year, scheduled to begin on Aug. 3.

The options include a phase-in or “soft opening” return to in-person classes along with an option for continued distance learning for parents who are uncomfortable sending their kids to school due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The two options, said Monarrez, could be used separately or together depending on the board’s decision.

Monarrez shared data collected through two surveys that asked parents and guardians whether they would prefer their kids return to classroom instruction, continue online distance learning or use blended instruction in the upcoming school year. The survey data showed that a majority of parents would prefer a return to traditional classroom instruction.

In a telephone survey, held over the past month, 2,998 student homes were called and 371 responses were collected. A majority of 51.8 percent of parents answered that they want their schools to return to classroom instruction. Just 18.1 percent wanted to continue with digital home-based learning and another 30.2 percent want blended instruction.

The district also conducted an online survey during two virtual town hall meetings on physical distance schooling (PDS) held on June 9, drawing an additional 641 responses. Of those surveyed at the town halls, 45.4 percent voted for traditional instruction, 29.6 percent for home-based instruction and 25 percent wanted blended instruction.

In total, 47.7 percent of those surveyed preferred classroom instruction, 26.9 percent blended instruction and 25.4 percent home-based instruction.

Board members Danny Tillman and Abigail Medina expressed concerns about high-risk students who could not participate in distance learning. Tillman said that a number of those students could not participate in digital learning last year because they were homeless.

Medina also said that she polled teachers on her Facebook page asking them what they thought about virtual learning. She said a lot of the teachers wanted to do the virtual learning from the classroom, as they had all the resources that they needed in their rooms.

According to Monarrez, the district would have to take six steps to reopen schools using the above options.

Step one: Draft a COVID-19 mitigation plan during the summer months.

Step two: Negotiate with collective bargaining units for teachers and staff on the impact of the board's recommendations.

Step three: Develop and train school implementation teams on the district guidelines for the 2020-21 school reopening, which would include collecting data by individual school communities on their needs and preferences and to train staff and students on new procedures and protocols for SBCUSD’s guidelines.

Step four: Coordinate a deployment plan with the SBCUSD’s Incident Management Team, which would include ordering the necessary supplies and equipment for the reopening and to monitor and adjust any recommendations based on instructions from the San Bernardino County Public Health Department.

Step five: Outline a communication plan for accurate and timely messaging to members of the community from the district and school sites.

Step six: District coordination with local community child care agencies.

The board will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, June 23, to confirm the district’s direction for next school year, which may include a distance learning start to the school year, followed by a soft start for high-risk communities by the end of September, with a blended model at a later date, that will be determined by guidance from state and county health officials.

According to Monarrez, a blended model may look different for every school, but, depending on the class size, classes would likely be half their normal size and all teachers and students would be required to wear face coverings. There also would be plastic sneeze shields placed around each desk. She said this model is dependent on the guidelines received from the county public health department.

If the county and state officials allow it, arts programs, including theater productions, could be allowed to resume with social distance requirements, Monarrez added.

As for sports, no word yet from CIF officials to SBCUSD on when sports of any kind might begin.

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