Depending on their grade level, some Pleasanton Unified School District families could either choose an online-based learning option, or take the plunge and send their student for some in-person instruction when school starts next month as re-visioned for the COVID-19 era, under the tentative reopening plan proposed by district staff.
The finer details of those instructional plans -- including how to eventually reopen all 15 sites -- will be combed over by the Board of Trustees during its online special meeting Tuesday night, starting at 6 p.m.
PUSD administration's recommendation calls for remote-only learning for grades three through 12 to start the year, and a hybrid model for transitional kindergarten (TK) through second grade as well as for some special education students and Village High School.
Recently adopted Senate Bill 98 paves a clearer path for California school districts while the coronavirus health crisis continues.
The new law creates minimum attendance requirements and expectations for student-staff interactions, requires a learning continuity plan, and defines "distance learning" and sets expectations for when and how the model can be used at a school or district level. Local agencies are also reaffirmed as the key decision makers and the bill levies fiscal penalties if minimum expectations aren't met.
With a more robust framework now in place, Alameda County school districts "have received approval to return to some level of in person instruction with health and safety precautions in place" when school officially begins Aug. 11, according to PUSD. The district said it will "enable parent choice, when and where possible" for the three proposed learning models to be offered during the pandemic.
For now, the district is recommending remote learning for most grades with the exception of students in grades TK-2, until conditions improve in the region.
A recently updated pre-registration intent data form with 12,130 respondents showed a slight 5% drop but that most families -- nearly 85% -- still prefer a hybrid learning model for their children when classes begin. Students attending school in person would do so on a staggered schedule several days a week "when it is safe."
Much of the reopening plan is unchanged but more details continue to emerge, most notably the new suggested scheduling blocks for hybrid and distance learning with accompanying lists of strengths and challenges.
"School may 'stretch and slide' between temporary distance learning, alternating groups in-person to support social distancing, and full return to 'normal' in-person instruction, pending COVID restrictions," though the district noted that bringing people back to school hinges on adhering to health guidelines and other factors like following strict physical distancing, cleaning and disinfecting, and PPE protocol.
Daily cleaning and disinfecting of classrooms, restrooms, common areas and health offices, as well as high touch points like doorknobs, plus access to hand washing sinks with soap or hand sanitizer stations located throughout the schools are listed as top priorities.
Per Alameda County health guidelines, the district is considering the use of electrostatic machines for "deep disinfection between changes in cohorts," and on a weekly basis for stable cohorts. To promote fresh outside air, classroom ventilation systems will be adjusted and new clean air filters added; doors and windows may also be opened where possible.
Desks must be at least six feet apart and arranged to minimize face-to-face contact, though distancing may be relaxed to five feet in order to accommodate more students. PUSD recommends that students bring and use their own supplies and avoid sharing electronic devices, books, games or learning aids.
The use of face masks or shields by students in kindergarten and older will also be required, except when eating or drinking.
Students unable to wear a mask or shield due to a developmental disability or health diagnosis are exempted from the face cover requirement. The Alameda County Public Health Department recommends wearing face shields "with a cloth drape bottom, and tucked into one’s shirt or tied around the back of the neck."
Self-screenings and temperature checks, limited campus access for parents and visitors, and maintaining stable cohorts will also be part of daily life.
Teachers will be able to teach multiple cohorts, as long as they wear a face covering and practice physical distancing, though the district noted, "For younger children, keeping a physical distance from teachers will be difficult, which is part of the consideration and recommendation for stable cohort groupings in the younger grades."
FLEX Academy, a long-term distancing learning option for elementary and secondary school students, was chosen by just over 13% of respondents -- a 4% uptick since the previous survey. FLEX attendees would remain in at-home learning classes for the duration of the semester or trimester, preferably for one year, and be required to participate via Zoom on a fixed daily basis.
Long-term independent study, which does not require daily, in-person or virtual attendance, is another option already utilized by some students for years. Weekly one-hour check-ins with a teacher are required, and "adequate academic progress is expected, but a daily schedule is not provided."
With distance learning expected to be commonplace this year, state legislators added a requirement that districts must ensure students have Internet access and "devices adequate to participate in the educational program and complete assigned work.”
Secondary students are covered but staff has recommended approving a $1.2 million purchase of 3,000 additional Chromebooks for elementary students that still need a device. "Nationwide supplies of these devices are extremely limited at this time, so it is expected that we will be sourcing from multiple vendors using government purchase contracts, piggybacks and cooperative bids to procure these items as soon as possible," staff wrote in a summary.
The devices will be funded from the district's federal CARES Act allocation, which must be spent by the end of the year.
The school board's open meeting is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Tuesday (July 14), preceded by a one-hour closed session.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify PUSD administration's recommendation by grade level.