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School Board OKs Plan For Secondary Reopening

Assuming Stanislaus County can hold onto the red tier as identified by the county virus tracking system, Oakdale Joint Unified School District approved a tentative plan to reopen the secondary school campuses after winter break, Jan. 4, 2021 at the earliest.

However, the approval is contingent upon the county being in the red tier when the time comes to implement the plan. Tuesday, it was initially dropped back to the more restrictive ‘purple’ tier but county officials received notice that the county could stay in the red while the county appeals the ‘purple’ classification.

The reopening decision, approved by the school board on Monday, Nov. 9, is a hybrid learning model for grades 7-12 with two instructional options available to families but OJUSD Superintendent Marc Malone was quick to stress, “We will not hurry, we will not chase these tiers … There’s not a person in this room who is not concerned about these numbers.”

The hybrid model is similar to the model used by the elementary school campuses and approved via waiver on Oct. 19.

Over 100 community members tuned into the Livestream of the district board meeting Monday night with colorful commentary running along the chat sidebar and a handful of callers weighing in, both parent and student alike, during public comment.

OJUSD Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum/Instruction, Kristi Rapinchuk outlined the district options to the board as follows:

Option 1 – A split schedule with distance learning on Monday, two extended minimum days of instruction by cohort on either Tuesday/Thursday or Wednesday/Friday. Grab and go lunches would be made available but cohort mixing during lunchtime would be avoided.

Option 2 — Extended short term independent study with students assigned Edgenuity courses. Edgenuity is a rigorous standards-aligned online instructional platform in which most assignments are graded by Artificial Intelligence (AI). An independent study teacher would perform a weekly check-in to review student progress as well as review essays or short, written answers graded by the teacher. The role of the independent study teacher will be to oversee one or more students and all their assigned courses.

Teachers will be required to provide office hours daily in the afternoon.

Rapinchuk said, “I believe this is something Oakdale could do very well and it would get students back into class.”

Oakdale High student Aidan Scott expressed his concern about the shortened instructional time, particularly for students in AP classes, which are typically more rigorous and complex. He suggested recording each teacher’s instruction so students could refer back to the instruction for additional help. Board members were intrigued by the idea, committing to looking further into the possibility.

Another student, currently identified as sick with the virus, was apprehensive about a return to class after she caught the virus from an elementary student in her household.

Although she admitted to struggling with her grades — a common and troubling situation facing many students — she said, “I’ve seen what going back to school can do to people and families … it makes me wonder if it’s really worth it. My life has been directly affected by it and I don’t want to see it become a widespread thing.”

Stanislaus County Public Health approved the minimum day scheduling as it eliminates the need for providing a brunch and lunch period and maintains a better cohort control. Many of the bigger districts within Stanislaus County are utilizing a similar model for their secondary school campuses.

District administrators admitted the plan was not ideal but gets students back to school, which is a main concern for both parents and teachers.

Board member Barbara Shook agreed that the hybrid model wasn’t the perfect solution but it was better than what students are doing now, saying, “Student teacher contact is very important. Even though, yes, it’s going to be less minutes I don’t think it’s a substantial difference … I don’t think we can stay with what we’re doing and continue to have a large number of students be successful.”

Board member Michael House echoed Shook’s sentiment, saying, “Teacher time with the students is more valuable than what we have now.”

Reopening the secondary campuses after winter break enables the district to finish the first semester under Distance Learning and allows for the district to fine-tune the Hybrid Block Schedule and answer as many questions as possible before reopening.

However, one parent, Michael Nessl, expressed his displeasure with the entire plan, saying, “I think we just need to bring kids back to school without restrictions. I feel, in my opinion, this is just a waste of your time. What we’re doing to the kids is far more damaging psychologically than keeping them home or letting them go to school.”

In regards to that sentiment, as Malone expressed earlier, sending the students back to school without restrictions isn’t an available option as that would go directly against the protocols set in place by the Stanislaus County Public Health Agency. While the district could certainly understand the frustrations inherent to distance learning, going rogue against the county public health officer wasn’t something the district was apt to do.