VUSD sets date for return to in-person learning

The general population of students in the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) will begin returning to class on the last day of November.

Youngest Students Return First

The first students to return will be the youngest, with preschoolers, kindergarteners, and first- and second-graders going back to their classrooms on November 30. Grades three through six will return on December 7. Schools will employ social distancing of at least 6 feet, meaning students will be divided into morning and afternoon classes to accommodate them.

Since the California Department of Public Health approved the district’s waiver, restrictions on the size of student groups will be removed. Some families, the district reports, will continue to use distance learning instead of returning to in-person instruction. A survey is currently underway to discover how many parents will be opting out their children.

“We need to know what the parents want for every single child,” said VUSD Superintendent Dr. Tamara Ravalin. “At this time, it looks like about 63% are interested in having their children return to school in person.”

The percentage, she said, varies by school site. The district is currently contacting those parents who failed to respond to the written survey.

Working with Health Officials
The VUSD, Ravalin said, was granted state permission to reopen after ironing out flaws in its planning by working with officials at Tulare County Health and Human Services (TCHHS).

“We made the changes that they (TCHHS) requested,” she said. “We worked very hard with our partners at the county to make sure we had everything covered.”

The state gave its nod to the VUSD’s plan on October 30.

When a COVID outbreak occurs, Ravalin said the district will again turn to the county for guidance.

“If a student or staff member tests positive, the Health Department is going to direct us on the protocols to follow,” she said.

Those infected or who came in contact with the infected will be isolated from VUSD’s general population immediately.

“They’re going to quarantine,” Ravalin said. “The classroom is going to stay home for 14 days, and then the students will learn online from the teacher, unless the teacher is very ill and cannot teach online.”

Some Students Already Back

A few groups with special needs are already back on select campuses, working in “cohorts” of up to 16 students and staff who do not mix with others. The cohorts include students who are homeless or in foster care, those learning English as a second language, disabled students, and those students who have been singled out as needing attention.

“Other students who are not doing well online, maybe they’re struggling in their academic work, or they’re struggling socially to connect, or they might have connectivity issues still, they can also join our cohorts,” Ravalin said.

Which students need special attention is determined by staff, parents and the students.

VUSD schools remain limited to no more than 25% of their regular population or 100 students, whichever is greater, until in-person instruction resumes under the state waiver on November 30.

Back to Normal

A date for return of all VUSD schools to full-time, in-person instruction is still a complete unknown. Reopening all hinges on Tulare County working itself out of the Purple Tier, the worst COVID rating possible, according to Ravalin.

“For that to happen, we have to be in the Red Tier for two weeks,” she said.

That would mean the county is able to sustain an infection rate below 8%–Tulare County’s rate is currently 4.8%–and the frequency of new cases must be below seven a day. The county is currently experiencing a running average of 10 new cases a day.

For more information on COVID-19 in Tulare County, visit covid19.tularecounty.ca.gov.

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