Escalon Unified School District officials saw their wavier to get elementary students back into classrooms approved by the county’s Department of Public Health and the state, with plans to return to campuses during October.
“The last board meeting, we submitted the application and we were approved on Tuesday, Sept. 22,” explained District Superintendent Ron Costa. “We will have a phased in re-opening for our elementaries.”
The waiver process is available currently for only the elementary level and, for Escalon, will involve TK through fifth grade students.
“We are planning for Collegeville and Farmington first, to open on the eighth of October, then Van Allen at least a week after that, Dent another week after that,” said Costa.
That, hopefully, will have elementary students back in a classroom setting at all four EUSD elementary sites by the end of October.
Costa said the district has also been in negotiations with the teacher’s union to clear the way for a return. As proposed, students will be back in classrooms on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursday and Fridays, from 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
“Wednesdays will be a distance learning day for everybody,” Costa added. “Teachers will be responsible for all the kids in their classes.”
Costa said it’s possible that some parents will not send their students back to the school sites right now, opting instead to keep them on distance learning. In that case, the teacher will have to determine how best to teach the in-class students and those on distance learning, making sure all students have access to the same material.
“The district is not going to prescribe how the teachers do it,” Costa explained. “Teachers will do it as it best fits for their class.”
The 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in class time would allow for teachers to meet with distance learning students in the afternoon, as a possible option. Other teachers might simultaneously teach in class while also appearing on Zoom, teaching all students at the same time.
Also, said Costa, the 12:15 p.m. dismissal will allow for students to pick up a lunch to take home, as opposed to trying to maintain social distancing in school cafeterias.
“Every student will be able to pick up lunch and the next day’s breakfast as they leave the campus,” said Costa. “It will be bagged up for them and they will take it home.”
Costa said the district will also follow the state’s public health guidelines in terms of face coverings.
At the TK through second grade levels, masks are “strongly encouraged,” said Costa, while in third through fifth grades, all students and adults will be required to wear face coverings during the in-class sessions.
“All kids riding the school busses will be required to wear masks,” added the superintendent.
Escalon’s waiver request was first approved by the county health officer, Dr. Maggie Park, and then was forwarded to the state level, where it was also approved.
The hope is that San Joaquin County will continue to see improvement in the recovery from the pandemic, leading eventually to all students getting back to classrooms. But, there are plenty of milestones to hit and maintain first.
For his part, George Megenney, who serves as principal for both Collegeville and Farmington, said many are anxious to return to at least some sense of normalcy.
“Our primary purpose has remained the same regardless of the pandemic: providing an education for the children in our community. School closures altered the method of delivery of that service, making it generally more cumbersome, more time consuming and often more frustrating for both parents and students,” noted Megenney. “Because Collegeville and Farmington students live in some of our most rural areas, access to the Internet has been challenging for many, even with district provided technology such as Chromebooks and hotspots. Any parent who has watched their child participate in a live Zoom meeting with their teacher has probably noticed dropped audio or video due to unstable Internet connections. Despite these myriad problems, both our regular program teachers and those working in Collegeville’s Dual Language Immersion program have worked hard to provide daily live instruction, maintain connections and communication with parents and provide students with meaningful interactions.”
But for many, Megenney added, getting back into the classrooms is something they look forward to, and are committed to doing it safely.
“There is no doubt in the mind of any educator that in-person classroom instruction is superior to distance learning. Were it not for the peculiar circumstances created by the pandemic, educators would be going about their routines as usual,” he said. “Every member of the staff at both schools is working toward making the transition back to the classroom for our students a comfortable and safe process. Collegeville and Farmington teachers, classroom aides, secretaries, food service personnel and custodians will all contribute their thoughts and ideas about how each school will manage every aspect of day-to-day school operations.”
Megenney said that “the health and safety protocols that we will be required to follow will necessitate that we rethink everything from student arrival to departure.”
He added that site teams at each school “have previously demonstrated that they can collaborate to develop solutions to problems, and while reopening under these unusual conditions poses many challenges, they are up to the task of doing so.”
Costa said the district put out a questionnaire for parents of elementary students and the initial wave showed an overwhelming majority wanting to return.
Of the first 484 responses received, said Costa, 388 were in favor of going back to campuses, 96 preferred to stay with distance learning.