Not entirely unexpected, but disappointing for many nonetheless, school campuses in Oakdale won’t be opening the doors in early August.
“There is certainly ample opinion upon the overall effects of the virus and the proper response to it,” Oakdale Joint Unified School District Superintendent Marc Malone noted as a special school board meeting commenced on Monday night, July 27. “The county public health officer is the recognized, single authority in Stanislaus County on public health and infectious disease. On July 13, the Stanislaus County public health officer determined that it is not safe to open our schools with in-person instruction.”
With this knowledge, OJUSD could not put their students, workers, and community at risk with their previously planned traditional learning format.
The meeting then continued with reports from Kristi Rapinchuk, Larry Mendonca, David Kline, Armida Colon, and Lisa Greenhow.
Rapinchuk started off the meeting with a video that is currently posted on the school district’s website at https://ojusd-ca.schoolloop.com/ to introduce what distance learning will look like for all grade levels.
Included in her report was a schedule for all grade levels. Elementary students will receive three hours of learning from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. with a lunch break and following noon to 2 p.m. office hours with teachers and supportive instruction. Junior high students will have class periods from 8 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. with lunch from 11:40 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. and students will then have access to teacher’s office hours via Google classroom. High school students will function similarly, with class periods running from 7:40 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. with the same lunch and office hours schedule as their junior high counterparts.
Families will be receiving site-specific information on Chromebook and textbook pick-up soon. More information can be found on each school’s website.
Students will be able to “go to school” starting Aug. 6 by logging into Google with their district Google account, going to their school’s website, and clicking on the distance learning icon. Rapinchuk assured that if students had connectivity issues or wanted to hear the lesson again, teachers are currently being trained and eventually will be expected to record lessons and have them available.
Concern was raised regarding what learning would look like as a “full time minimum day schedule.” Along with rethinking assessment, Rapinchuk responded: “My greater concern is that we would try to deliver too much ... In a way, we are going to have to identify the most essential content necessary in order for them to progress to the next grade as well as drop back into a conventional schedule when we are able to do so.”
Along with balancing this learning adaptation, the district assured that this is the best balance between getting enough content to enter into the next grade without getting too much screen fatigue.
Further questions were answered regarding what physical education would look like, how attendance would be tracked, and how learning will be assessed.
David Kline addressed general expectations for teachers, especially noting that they will be monitoring their health each day, will answer a COVID questionnaire before classes, and will be provided with face coverings (masks and shields) as well as an abundance of hand sanitizer. Most teachers are expected to teach from their classroom, which will be thoroughly cleaned.
Larry Mendonca then expanded on what education is going to look like for students with special needs. He relayed that these special needs students will also be doing distance learning.
“Each case manager is going to call each student on their caseload, speak with the parent, and discuss (the details of teaching),” he reported, also noting that parents will still be receiving a report on how students are progressing according to their goals. He reinforced “once we return to school, we go back to the original IEP.”
Concerning emotional and social learning skills and reports, Armida Colon explained that there is plenty “out of the box thinking.” Among the plethora of resources offered will be a student webpage with crisis hotlines, tools and strategies for managing emotions and wellness, different mindfulness and relaxation activities, and ways to identify and navigate feelings. She even mentioned that there will be “ninja yoga classes” available.
Moreover, Colon and Malone assured that school sites still have counseling and referrals available. In fact, school counselors and psychologists can meet with students in person, adhering to proper social distancing and PPE measures, or remotely.
“If you see your student is under severe stress or depression, don’t ride that wave by yourself. We have resources,” Malone said.
He further commended OJUSD teachers and staff for their quick, two-week turnaround. Before the July 13 announcement enforcing distance learning, the district had planned for in-person classes. Within 14 days, they put this online learning plan together.
“We, as teachers, are nervous about facing the unknown ... but we’re really excited because teaching is our passion,” Lisa Greenhow, the new Oakdale Teachers Association president, commented. “We want to deliver quality lessons and help our students grow as people.”
The public comment section then addressed called-in concerns on a number of issues, ranging from the GATE program, what learning will look like for students of essential workers, “brain breaks” for younger students who cannot maintain concentrated focus, cyberbullying, distance learning curriculum links, and absences and attendance.
Malone, at the end, encouraged, “any question that was not answered, call your school site and your site administration team will get your question answered.” With this, the district website also has FAQs addressed and a form where parents can ask any more specific questions they may have.
“We must exercise grace and compassion as we welcome students back to school,” Colon urged during the meeting. “And we must ensure they have the opportunity they need to thrive.”