by Dave Adalian
Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) campuses will remain closed through at least May 1 due to COVID-19, after district trustees voted to extend the current cessation of in-person classes.
Should conditions improve so that infection rates are steady and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s shelter-at-home order is lifted, the trustees empowered Superintendent Dr. Tamara Ravalin to reopen schools by May 4. When schools do get back to business as normal, there will likely be a delay as teachers prepare for the pupils’ return.
“We’re going to need to give them time to get ready for the students,” Ravalin said.
Meals During Spring Break
In the resolution, which was considered during an emergency meeting on Friday evening, March 27, schools could reopen sooner than May 4 should conditions improve. VUSD schools closed on March 16 and were scheduled to remain shuttered until April 13.
Because of the COVID-19 emergency response, the VUSD plans to continue providing meals to children 1 to 18 during the upcoming spring break, April 6-10. The district is providing lunch and breakfast to students at some campuses and by bus along selected bus routes.
“We are probably going to have to modify the schedule a bit,” Ravalin said.
The schedule is available online at the district’s website, vusd.org.
Online Learning Continues
VUSD teachers are providing online instruction, with learning materials available both online and as hard copy at the same locations where meal distribution is taking place. As online teaching extends beyond the spring break, teachers will begin adding new material. Ravalin said the district is taking pains to ensure any new curriculum and lessons take into consideration the needs of disabled students and those learning English as a second language.
“We have to be careful that the activities we provide are available to all our students,” she said.
There will also be an emphasis on direct interaction between teachers and students, Ravalin said.
“We definitely want voice-to-voice communication,” she said. “It’s important we preserve that bond between teacher and student.”
No Extended School Year
Ravalin also told trustees the district is working with employee groups on working conditions during the COVID-19 crisis to address their concerns.
“It requires us to think differently, and we’re learning to do that,” Ravalin said.
There was some concern from trustees about children whose grades were poor when classes were suspended.
“It shouldn’t hurt their grade moving forward. We said the grade at the time of closing, would be what their grade would be,” said Trustee Joy Naylor. “What about kids whose grades weren’t so good?”
Ravalin assured Naylor teachers would be encouraged to extend deadlines and assign extra credit work.
Trustee Dr. Lucia Vazquez wanted the district to treat the current situation as a “catch-up” time for students who have missing or incomplete assignments.
“I haven’t heard that from us,” she said. “I want to make sure we don’t widen the gap.”
Vazquez also said she was in favor of extending the current school year into the summer, a move the district is not currently considering. Ravalin addressed the issue earlier in the meeting.
“That wouldn’t be our plan,” she said of summertime schooling. “Our plan would be that the school year end at the regular time.”
Parents’ Concerns Addressed
During a public comment period before the vote to extend the current hiatus, one parent asked if Advance Placement students in secondary schools would receive instruction as the placement tests will be held according to their regular schedule. Ravalin assured him AP students would be adequately prepared. Another parent expressed her opinion the VUSD’s approach to online learning was haphazard.
“There seems to be, from my perspective, a lack of organization with online learning,” said Nattie Freeborn, mother of three VUSD students, who also wondered why the district was not employing online resources other districts are using. “I really am trying to understand why this is not available yet to our students,” she said.
Vazquez agreed with Freeborn’s assessment.
“I think it’s important to learn from this crisis,” she said.
Vazaquez also sought clarification about the amount of prep time teachers and staff would need once classes resume. Ravalin said custodial staff would be the first to return to disinfect and clean schools prior to students returning.
“It does not take us long to disinfect schools,” she said. “We have foggers that do that very quickly.”
Custodians would be followed by clerical staff and administrative staff. Some clerical staff have continued to work during the shutdown to conduct day-to-day business.
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College classes have been available online for years now. Each and every public school student should be able to “attend” school via online. Teachers should be able to hold classes via online by using Skype, etc. Students will be able to interact with the teacher and also hear classroom questions being asked others. Classrooms simply become virtual. Comcast, AT&T, PBS, any cable carrier should be involved in whatever capacity they can contribute to …. free of charge to families with public school students. Time for everyone to think outside the box. And before anyone starts crying about the cost of all of this or the impossibility of all of this…..don’t be a naysayer and come up with ideas on how to make this possible …not why this cannot happen. Time for more creativity on how to get our students FULLY educated, not just a little bit.