MOJAVE — Classes will continue with a distance learning model when school starts again in the fall for Mojave Unified School District.
The decision to continue distance learning for the first quarter of the year rather than have students return to campus was the recommendation of a task force assigned to study the matter, which offered its conclusion to the Board of Trustees on Tuesday.
It was determined to be the best means of addressing educational needs given the health restrictions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
There will be very limited access to campus for some students with exceptional needs or courses that require a physical presence, such as welding, which is for small groups, with protective equipment and separate entrances to campus.
The task force looked at three options for the coming school year: fully opening on campuses, a blended model with both on-campus and distance learning and distance learning only, Director of Curriculum Integration and Educational Partnerships Daniel Sexton said.
In light of the various guidelines for safely reopening schools to students and the District’s own circumstances, “it became clear right away that a full open was not a viable option,” he said.
With that as a starting point, the group looked at the hybrid model, carefully studying the logistics of reopening campuses to students, especially the social distancing requirements, Sexton said.
In addition to the space needed to preserve six feet between people, the group also looked at obtaining and maintaining personal protective equipment, screening for fevers and what to do if a student or staff member was found to have a fever and sanitizing procedures.
It saw that transportation would have to be significantly modified to accommodate proper social distancing, with only a handful of students allowed on each bus, Sexton said. Arrival and dismissal would need to be very tightly controlled.
Meals could not be provided to large groups and would need to be shifted likely to classrooms. Recess would also have to be restricted to classrooms and restroom breaks scheduled and hand washing monitored, he said.
As for educational instruction, only about 20% of the student body could be on campus at any time and still maintain proper distancing. This means that the students would rotate through the campus on different days and teachers would see different students each day.
High school students would not be able to switch classrooms for each subject, which would make distance learning alone the best option for them, Sexton said.
Attendance and grading procedures would likewise have to be modified.
While all of these are challenges, the “real deal breaker” is planning for what to do if a student or staff is suspected or is found to have contracted COVID-19, which would mean closing the school, Sexton said.
The other key obstacles include the transportation challenges, protections for transitional kindergarten students who may not be capable of reliably using protective equipment or following safety guidelines.
Additionally, if a young student is found to have a fever at school, it may not be possible to send them home or there may not be a suitable means of getting them there, he said.
There is also the question of some staff members who are at higher risk for COVID-19 who will require long term accommodations, he said.
Ultimately, the task force questioned whether the educational and social benefits of the hybrid approach would outweigh the obstacles and came to the conclusion they would not.
The distance learning approach alone will be different than what was provided at the end of the year, when it was put together very quickly without time to plan. This time, the program will be more deliberate and some of the difficulties encountered, such as access to WiFi, have been addressed.
The district calls for professional development for staff and planning over the summer to prepare and ensure all the various groups’ needs are considered, Sexton said.
“We are really looking for full instruction,” he said, with work submitted online and grading proceeding as per regular Board policies.
Teachers would interact with students online, he assured Trustee Toni Evans.
No matter what form educational instruction takes next year, “extracurricular activities do not look promising for the near future because of all the guidance,” he said.
The task force surveyed parents to gauge their thoughts on how the schools should proceed.
In the survey results, 41% said they would not send their children to campus should they reopen in the fall, and 53% said they would not send their children back to campus if a student or staff member fell ill with COVID-19, Sexton said.
In the survey, 85% said they could provide adequate supervision for students learning from home.
In the comments, the vast majority of parents said they would not be comfortable with their children on campus until there is a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, Sexton said.
Input was also gathered from a number of subgroups, including elementary and secondary principals and teachers, special education, English learners, and social and emotional learning.
“We attempted to get as broad input as possible so we could really make an informed recommendation,” Sexton said.