Colusa County school districts are preparing for the return to in-person learning with some districts hoping to secure a waiver that allows them to reopen despite Colusa County’s purple tier status that prohibits in-person learning to resume under Governor Gavin Newsom’s tiered reopening plan.
Maxwell Unified School District and Princeton Joint Unified School District already received this waiver earlier this month and resumed in-person learning for students in kindergarten through sixth grade Sept. 14.
Here is what the other districts in the county are doing:
Colusa Unified School District
Jeff Turner, superintendent of Colusa Unified School District, said that district staff have been working long and hard to fit together the “puzzle pieces” that will allow students return to campus for in-person learning.
“A great deal of those pieces are already in place,” said Turner.
According to Turner, the district would like to have all the transitional kindergarten through sixth grade students back on campus for a blended learning model, which would be a combination of in-person learning and distance learning, by mid-October after obtaining the waiver.
Turner said the biggest hurdles to making in-person learning a reality are the limitations that arise when working in cohorts, the requirement for COVID-19 testing every two month upon returning to the in-person model for all staff and students and participation in the school reopening survey.
“The importance of the survey is twofold,” said Turner. “The first is, part of the waiver requirement requires us to have the support of our teachers, our bargaining units, our parents and our community.”
The survey also gives the district an idea about how many parents would like to continue with the distance learning model or homeschooling after in-person learning resumes, said Turner.
Unlike other schools within the county, Turner said that the size of the student body within CUSD and the configuration of the schools is another challenge when trying to reintroduce the in-person learning model.
“At Egling Middle School we are trying to support students not only in fourth through sixth grade that qualifies for the waiver, but then also supporting students in seventh and eighth grade that would not be able to participate in the same way because of that waiver,” said Turner.
In order for CUSD to be able to begin in-person learning for students in seventh through twelfth grade, Turner said the county needs to make some gains with their status on the state watch list.
“Currently we are in Tier 1, which is purple, and we need to shift to Tier 2 and get to that red zone” said Turner. “Once we get to that red zone area, if we can hang on there for 14 days we will be able to begin to reopen our schools for our seventh through twelfth grade students.”
Pierce Unified School District
Carol Geyer, superintendent for Pierce Joint Unified School District said the district is planning to submit an application to receive a waiver that would allow elementary school students to return as soon as the district collects letters of support from their unions.
“Over sixty percent of our parents want to send their students back to school under the waiver,” said Geyer.
Although obtaining the waiver to allow some in-person learning to resume is the goal at this time, Geyer said there are no exact dates for when this will happen as there are still a lot of “unknowns.”
In the meantime, Geyer said small cohorts of 14 students at each of the district’s school sites have been permitted to attend school on campus in the multipurpose room. This allows students with connectivity issues to access reliable internet during school hours.
In an effort to further mitigate connectivity issues during distance learning, Geyer said the district has also recently received an additional 300 hotspots and have begun to distribute them to the highest priority students.
Williams Unified School District
The Williams Unified School District plans to monitor district learning through the first trimester of the 2020-21 school year to determine how to best phase into a hybrid learning model when applicable.
“The health and safety of students and staff at our schools continues to be the highest priority of our Board of Trustees and District,” it was stated in the WUSD reopening plan. “We have opened virtually in order to safeguard everyone, with a goal to phase back a return to school safely.”
WUSD officials said they have learned a lot about distance learning from their experience during the last school year and this year will be a vast improvement from the end of last year.
WUSD plans to follow a 5-phase plan when reintroducing in-person learning once they decide to proceed. This plan includes limited distance learning, hybrid learning, in-person learning with restrictions before transitioning back to in-person learning without restrictions.