schools

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East County school districts are weighing options for reopening

Even though summer only recently began, school officials and community members in Contra Costa County are hard at work to figure out how students can return.

The elementary through high school districts in Brentwood, Oakley and Byron launched task force groups composed of classified employees, teachers, board members and parent leaders to help identify what that return could look like. Most hope to have final answers by early July.

“Contra Costa County is not going to let us have all of our kids on campus, so we might have to do some level of hybrid model — keep kids 6 feet apart. That’s like 15 kids in a class,” Brentwood Union School District (BUSD) Superintendent Dana Eaton said.

While school district superintendents receive overarching guidance from the state in ongoing communication from Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond, the immediate guidance stems from local health agencies. With Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) being stricter than that of other counties, superintendents at a local level are coming to terms with the fact that roughly half of their student populations will be permitted on campus at one time. Final guidance from the county is still forthcoming.

As outlined by the Oakley, Brentwood and Liberty school districts, the options for returning could be: a complete return to school with modifications in regard to cleaning and visitation permissions; a hybrid approach with combined distance learning and face-to-face instruction; or continued distance learning. Eaton’s district, however, indicated in a recent presentation to the board (https://bit.ly/thepressnet_BUSDreturn) that the first option wasn’t really an option, as the county wouldn’t support a complete return.

As a smaller district, Byron (https://www.byronunionschooldistrict.us) was able to offer a more firm timeline and only named the latter two options.

“As of (June 23), Byron is scheduled to return to school the week of July 27,” Byron Superintendent Reyes Gauna reported. “Our team is working on two models for the board to consider: full distance learning or a hybrid model – AB schedule, with an option for families to send their children to our new Independent Study School if they are not comfortable sending them back to school regularly. In the very near future, we will present these models to our board with all available information, to assist them in making a decision. Byron continues to work collaboratively with Oakley, Knightsen, Liberty and Brentwood.”

Addressing the schedules for older students with multiple teachers presented a different challenge, which Liberty Union High School District (LUHSD) met by developing a detailed schedule should that option win favor with the county. The proposed schedule can be found in the downloadable “presentation to the board” PowerPoint document at https://bit.ly/thepressnet_LibertyModel.

The districts’ respective task forces also launched surveys to families to gather data on preferences or abilities with regard to education. The BUSD survey has already closed and results were captured in the presentation to the board. Of those who took the survey, a majority of families (81.87%) plan on returning to school should it reopen, 16.89% were unsure and a small percentage (1.24%) said no. The Byron district also published results, showing 60% of families feeling confident about a return to school. LUHSD parents of high school students from Brentwood and Oakley were the most comfortable with their children reporting to school every other day (63.27%). But the results were only a few percentage points lower when also asked if they were comfortable with their children returning every day. The link for Oakley’s elementary district survey is still live, and families are encouraged to reply. Find the link at https://bit.ly/thepressnet_OakleySurvey.

“The decision about when and how school will reopen will ultimately be made by our Board of Education with student and staff safety at the forefront, based on guidance from public health professionals, as well as input from the task force and from parent surveys,” Oakley Union Elementary School District Superintendent Greg Hetrick said, further noting it would be unlikely for the Oakley board to make its decision until early July.

Eric Volta, LUHSD superintendent, reported to families the high school board will determine at its July 6 meeting whether school will begin July 27 or a few weeks later to allow personnel more time to prepare.

“A one-month postponement, as previously announced as a possibility, will most likely not occur,” Volta said. “In determining what specific schedule will be adopted, we will need to learn from the state how instructional days and minutes will be counted. This important information was released earlier this week, and we are awaiting the specific details.”

Overall, the district officials note they aim to provide more answers as they become available, but much remains uncertain.

“We are hopeful that the state and local health and safety guidelines will continue to ease up on restrictions, as our desire is to return to school in as normal a capacity as possible,” Hetrick said. “However, we must continue to plan and prepare ourselves in the event that this ever changing COVID-19 Pandemic does not allow us to return to school.”

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