The DUSD board voted to start the school year with full distance learning for at least six weeks in a 5-0 decision at Thursday’s special meeting.
“Safety needs to come first for students, staff, and teachers,” Trustee Gabi Blackman said, echoing the sentiments expressed by the entire board. “Our staff has done a lot of amazing work to make sure that our students’ education will continue and that they will be in class, even though it will be through a computer.”
The tentative agreement with the Dublin Teachers Association that was approved at this meeting called for a fully online opening to the year, modified the calendar for the 2020-2021 school year, and outlined safety protocols that will be in place when the district eventually shifts toward a hybrid on-campus model.
This decision came a day before Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled new mandates which require public school districts to remain physically closed until their county has been off of the state COVID-19 monitoring list for 14 consecutive days. Alameda County is currently on this list.
Newsom’s plan also requires distance learning to be rigorous and involve daily live interaction with teachers and between students. DUSD acknowledged this need for highly-structured and comprehensive online learning.
“We want to make sure that what we provide online is as robust as possible,” stated Acting Superintendent Dan Moirao.
In order to do so, the approved calendar modifications moved staff-development days that were slated for later in the year to the first week of August and added two extra staff-development days. These days will focus on professional training to adapt to teaching through Canvas, an online learning platform that the district will adopt this year.
Diane Manske, interim assistant superintendent of human resources, stated that the two extra staff-development days will use funds that the state government has granted to the district for the specific purpose of closing learning gaps that have emerged due to the pandemic.
The addition of extra staff-development days has pushed back the first day of school to Thursday, Aug. 13.
Moirao emphasized that the situation is in constant flux, noting that the six-week time period was chosen to ensure that staff is consistently reevaluating the situation. He noted that the district’s long-term plan is to move from distance learning to a hybrid model, then to full on-campus attendance with restrictions like masks and social distancing, and then eventually to full on-campus attendance without restrictions.
In response to a question raised by Trustee Catherine Kuo about the criteria that will determine when the district can move forward in these next steps toward a full reopening, Moirao replied that the criteria is currently being developed. Reopening plans will also take into consideration ongoing county and state guidance.
The tentative agreement that was approved will apply to the entire school year, Manske explained. This will ensure that even if schools need to reopen or close back down as the situation continues to fluctuate the transitions between in-person and remote learning will be smooth.
Newsom’s plans touched on the need for these transition protocols as well, stating that once schools begin to offer in-person learning again, they must shut back down if more than 5% of the student population tests positive for COVID-19. If more than 25% of the schools in a district are closed, the rest of the district must do so as well.
Public comment on the item largely revolved around the details of what distance learning could look like, with parents especially concerned about the effectiveness of online learning for special education programs, younger children, and English language learners.
Trustee Megan Rouse echoed these concerns but assured the public that these details regarding the logistics of distance learning will be discussed at length at next Tuesday’s regularly-scheduled board meeting, which will feature a staff presentation.
The board did assure the community that regardless of the format of school, students will be given formal grades and attendance will be taken daily.
Board President Dan Cherrier also raised an issue with current district policies that require doctor’s notes as proof of illness, suggesting that this should be revisited in light of a pandemic where officials are encouraging people to stay home if they have any reason to believe they may be ill. Staff stated that there will be time at later board meetings to revisit and potentially revise district health policies wherever necessary.