By Elizabeth Sanchez, South Kern Sol
After nearly three hours of discussion regarding plans to reopen schools in the fall, the Kern High School District Board of Trustees is leaning towards adopting a hybrid plan when school returned in August.
However, the board postponed its vote on a plan to reopen and will make a decision after receiving more input from stakeholders and staff at the next special board meeting.
“If teachers don’t feel safe to come back and educate (students), then how are students going to feel safe if we don’t get that input from the person standing in the classroom everyday,” said Trustee Cynthia Brakeman. “I don’t know if I can vote on this without input from other people.”
Although there were multiple plans presented in the meeting, the board focused on a plan that calls for two cohorts. Cohort 1 would attend school Monday and Tuesday and Cohort 2 would attend school Thursday and Friday. Wednesday would be an “academic support day” for teachers to check in with students at home.
On the days the cohorts are not at school, there will be distance learning taking place on Canvas, an online teaching platform.
When coming up with a plan for the fall, Brenda Lewis, the Associate Superintendent of Instruction, said the district considered many factors, including health and safety, student engagement, access and equity and mental health.
In order to gain a better understanding of the needs of parents, a survey was administered and more than 43 percent of all responses came from four schools: Centennial, Liberty, Stockdale, and Frontier high schools.
Most responses from parents said they would prefer their students receive a traditional in-school instruction, and an overwhelming majority of the parents who responded were in favor of having students attend school two days a week rather than an entire virtual school year.
During public comment, the board heard a from parents and students in favor of school re-opening in the fall. Many parents said students are experiencing mental health stress due to social isolation and not being able to play sports. They are also experiencing academic difficulties with distance learning.
“It has been a difficult learning experience, much harder than learning in person,” said Liberty High student Olivia Sylvester. “It’s important for us to return in the fall.”
Teachers on the other hand expressed concern with returning to school.
“I do not believe we should return to school in August,” said Colette Moon, a teacher at Frontier High. “If school administration refused to enforce mask guidelines (as graduation), there is no successful way we can return to classrooms.”
Another teacher expressed concern to return in the fall because her and her husband, who both work for the district, are expecting a baby.
“What protocols will be put in place if someone tests positive,” the teacher asked. “There is a risk everyday we are in contact with other people.”
Lewis also went over staff responses, which came from both classified and certificated staff. A little more than 45 percent of staff responses said they would like to have a hybrid program. And 35 percent of staff responses said distance learning has not been effective.
However Vickie Shoenhair, the president of the Kern High School Teachers Association, said in a letter the teachers felt they were left out of the discussion.
“We have the right to review the proposed plans,” she said. “After the parent survey was sent out, teacher waited patiently for their survey.”
Scoenhair said the teachers had to request to be part of the survey, and teachers asked to review the proposed schedules for the reopening of schools in the fall.
“Those with classroom management…(skills) were left out of the conversation,” Scoenhair said. “We were not even made aware of the schedules.”
Brakeman expressed concern with this.
“I don’t mean to be abrasive or argumentative, but you guys just met with Vickie on Thursday of last week, so there wasn’t enough time for them to put out what your proposed,” Brakeman said to Lewis. “If I was still teaching, I would be really angry right now if I wasn’t asked more questions about what we are going to do in the fall.”
Almost 60 percent of staff responses said KHSD is not at all likely or not very likely to re-open safely in the fall; however the board has not made a decision for the fall.
“How do they answer that if they don’t know what we are doing,” said Trustee Bryan Batey.
SAFETY PROTOCOLS AND RESOURCES
Some of the safety guidelines Lewis discussed the district requiring students and staff to wear face coverings while at school; implementing more hand washing stations around campus; screening with touch-free thermometers; requiring social distancing in classrooms; implementing hallway instruction during passing periods; installing Plexiglas barriers; and cleaning everyday after school ends.
Bus routes will need to be adjusted to allow for social distancing, and meal distributions will continue for the students who are not on campus on a particular day.
If a staff members or students were to contract COVID-19, it will be up to the school if it will shut down.
As far as technology and internet access, the district’s goal is to have enough Chromebooks to have in the classrooms and for students to have at home. The district is looking to purchase 10,000 more Chromebooks, but the earliest day they will receive them is November.
KHSD will also have access to more than 5,000 mobile hot spots for students to have in their homes if needed.
LIABILITY AND FISCAL CONSIDERATIONS
Scott Cole, the Deputy Superintendent, said the district will be liable if a staff member or student contacts COVID-19; however, the district’s insurance will not cover it.
“We are not covered,” Cole said. “We would be on the hook for paying it.”
Because many insurance companies are not covering COVID-19 cases, Cole said schools could theoretically go bankrupt without coverage.
As far as receiving Average Daily Attendance funds, the state has decided to grant each school district the amount of money it received last school year; however, Cole said this puts KHSD at a disadvantage, as it will gain nearly 1,200 students in the upcoming school year.
“Some district’s will benefit and some will lose out,” Cole said. “We will lose out.”