The Oakdale Joint Unified School District held their first meeting of the new school year on Monday night, Aug. 10, addressing several topics that now seem to come along with the times.
“Due to the current safety concerns and needs for ongoing social distancing, we are asking that attendance be limited to essential participants which include elected board members and cabinet members,” began board president Diane Gilbert.
Though Caroline Krum, the new student board member, was sworn into her position later on in the meeting, she had to call in over the phone as she was asked to present remotely.
Public comments were also done remotely, and anyone wishing to speak had to call in. One public comment was voiced regarding the newly implemented social studies curriculum and noted that a few other community members had similar concerns.
After the commenter spoke, there were a few moments of silence as the board decided how best to respond. Assistant Superintendent Kristi Rapinchuk answered by assuring that the district had followed state protocol and teacher choices in order to best pick the protocol and Superintendent Marc Malone later added that if they had chosen another curriculum on the state adopted list, it would still have the same content.
“It’s a very different history curriculum than we were raised with,” they acknowledged.
Due to the online format, it was unclear if the district wanted to continue responding, if the parent who called in should say anything else (or if they’d hung up), or if they were all waiting for another call to public comment.
The board decided to move on with the meeting and closed public comment. A minute later, someone else called in for comment, but was told that it had officially ended.
Oakdale Teachers Association president, Lisa Greenhow, after getting the busy signal a few times, was able to get her call in and give a report.
“This has been an interesting week, one for the history books,” she acknowledged. “I heard that people were awed by what they saw in our digital classrooms; there were warm and inviting digital spaces, there was laughter, there was student engagement, and best of all there was learning.”
Greenhow also addressed the unprecedented hurdle that was faced on Friday: an internet outage, districtwide. She relayed that teachers continued to think outside of the box to get information to their students, whether that be using their own personal internet hotspots or going home for the day to use Wi-Fi there.
“Clearly the location we teach from doesn’t predict our ability to be outstanding teachers ... we have an exceptional group of professionals,” she said. “We teach, learn, every day. No excuses.”
After Greenhow’s report, they moved on in the schedule to officially seat the new student board member. Krum, facing similar difficulty to get a call through, had to wait a little longer for her official swearing in.
“Over the weekend, I sent out a survey to a couple people in the district and I ended up getting about 400 responses, so I wanted to go over a bit of what comments people left and the main things I saw,” Krum began.
She then gave a report about students’ general attitudes including worries about enforcing masks, a desire for a back-up plan in case there is another internet outage, and a wish for more information about the coronavirus from the district. Krum also asked students how their mental health was faring since shutdowns in March, and many responded with feelings of anxiety or depression, as school often gives students a sense of structure and social interaction.
This had been on the district’s radar as they entered into the new school year. For their special July meeting, the board had a report detailing mental health resources for students; they agreed to add the topic onto the next meeting’s agenda for further conversation.
There were a few first readings, regarding suspension and expulsion updates as well as acknowledging changes to documents that better reflect gender neutrality.
Notably, one of the action items regarded approving the Illness/Injury Prevention Plan (IIPP) to include protocols to implement during a pandemic.
The board meeting was completed in a little less than an hour and officials reported that there would be back to school nights through the week and a Labor Day holiday with no school on Sept. 7. The next school board meeting will be on Monday, Sept. 14. All videos of board meetings, past and livestreams, can be found at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZdB-OF9xQSDVe3Csc84K0w.