PALMDALE — Antelope Valley school districts are scheduled to start the 2020-21 academic next month. How they start is another question.
Most districts could offer blended models that combine distance learning and modified classroom instruction. Some wondered whether they push back the start of school to September.
No final decisions have been made by any school Board because reopening plans need to be negotiated with each district’s bargaining units. District leaders are also trying to balance guidance and/or orders from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the LA County Office of Education and the California Department of Public Health.
Members of the Antelope Valley School Boards Association conducted a Zoom meeting on July 1 to discuss reopening options each District in the Valley is considering for the new school year. Palmdale School District Board hosted the meeting.
“The purpose of the meeting is just to consider what we’re all doing, have a little discussion about what we’re doing and why and maybe learn something,” Palmdale School District Board Clerk Nancy Smith said. “Some of us may adapt a little bit based on what we hear what other people are doing and why they’re doing it.”
Representatives from several school districts were there. State Senator Scott Wilk and Jackie Owens, a field assistant for Rep. Mike Garcia, also participated.
As the meeting host, Palmdale started first. Palmdale’s Board of Education adopted a proposed reopening learning model on June 16 that offers parents a choice of three options: hybrid, distance learning and independent study.
The hybrid model would have students in two different groups attend school on campus two days a week with distance learning on the other three days.
Students in Group A would attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays, and Group B would attend school on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesday would be a day for deep cleaning and teacher collaboration. There is also a Distance Learning model, which would continue what the district started after campuses closed to students in March.
“We do have some parents that have been opting to stay on distance learning, which we would honor that,” Palmdale Superintendent Raul Maldonado said. “We’re hoping that more kids do show up in the classrooms but we do understand the parents are afraid to send some of their kids to school.”
The third option is Innovations Academy, Palmdale School District’s independent study program. The district has had the program for a few years. However, enrollment has never been higher than 100 students.
Westside Union School District trustees held a nearly six-hour meeting on June 27 to discuss options for reopening schools.
At the end of the meeting the Board unanimously agreed to offer parents a variety of options, similar to Palmdale School District. Those would be two days a week in school that would rotate between groups A and B, and distance learning the other three days, Westside Superintendent Regina Rossall said.
Westside students would attend school in different groups Monday through Thursday. Fridays would be for individualized instruction and deep cleaning.
Westside is also offering a Distance Learning program.
“Our survey indicated about 31% of our parents were not going to send their kids back to school,” Rossall said, adding the survey was taken in May.
In addition, Westside will offer a homeschooling option for English Language Arts and mathematics. The remainder of the curriculum would be conducted remotely by a classroom teacher.
Westside will be able to reopen Leona Valley Elementary School five days a week for in-class instruction for the coming school year.
“It is a very small school. We anticipated only having between 65 and 70 students there next year,” Rossall said.
Rossall added they also intend to bring special education students back to campus five days a week.
Lancaster School District is considering bringing students back five days a week using morning and afternoon sessions that would include distance learning. For example, students in the morning session would be in class for the first part of the day then switch to distance learning for the latter part of the day, and vice versa, Lancaster Superintendent Michele Bowers said.
Lancaster also offers the Lancaster Alternative Virtual Academy, an online learning option the District has offered for several years.
Bowers said about 25% of families indicated they would be more interested in doing something at home.
“We anticipate that even though we will have opportunities for students to be there Monday through Friday that there will still be plenty of families that would prefer to keep their child at home until the situation gets better as far as the Department of Public Health,” Bowers said.
Antelope Valley Union High School District Learning Model Options for Families give parents the choice of At-School and At-Home learning. The At-School learning model would be blended with at-learning with students attending school two days a week. Special education students would attend school four days a week.
For At-Home learning parents could choose between distance learning, independent study, and the Academies of the Antelope Valley Virtual Academy.
Keppel Union School District’s governing Board is waiting until their new superintendent starts on July 10. The Board is set to approve a contract with the district’s new superintendent on Thursday.
“We tabled the issue because we have so many problems and we are very concerned with the single-parent family and the two earners who cannot afford the two days model,” Board President Dominique Ballante said.
As far as a start date, Smith supports moving the start of school to September because of the ongoing pandemic.
“Because I think we’ll know a lot more about what’s going on,” Smith said. “But I know if we all don’t act in concert we’re all going to be receiving a lot of flack.”
Westside Union is scheduled to open on Aug. 5; Palmdale School District is scheduled to open a day later.
Palmdale trustee Simone Zulu Diol said with cases of COVID-19 spiking in the state and county currently, it does not make sense to re-open campuses.
“I know if we do that that soon, we’re going to turn around and close it again, which is ridiculous to me,” Zulu Diol said. “September would give us a little bit of time to figure it out.”
Ballante said Keppel Union has many single parents or families who cannot afford to split time.
“The parents are counting on our schools to serve them and to take them,” Ballante said. “Some school districts are going to lose attendance because the parents will hunt for a district that will take their children five days a week.”
Senate Bill 98, a trailer bill approved along with the 2020-21 $202 billion state budget, calls for local educational agencies to offer in-person instruction to the “greatest extent possible.”
“The governor and legislative leaders are against distance learning,” Smith said. “They want as little of it as possible. And if you violate the list that’s in SB 98, they plan on taking the per ADA allotment away because they do not want us on distance learning unless we have to be there and the students are medically fragile.”
“This thing was never properly vetted,” Wilk said. “I pulled down (State Superintendent of Instruction) Tony Thurmond’s reopening plan. I don’t see how we can implement it.”
Wilk added he was very concerned for working class families.
“I don’t see how they can comply because they need to have their kid in school,” Wilk said.