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School District Prepares For Elementary Opening
The sign at the Oakdale Joint Unified School District office on South Third Avenue announces the fact that elementary students will return to campuses, albeit in a hybrid model, on Monday, Oct. 19. Marg Jackson/The Leader

Acknowledging that they can’t please everyone, Oakdale Joint Unified School District Superintendent Marc Malone nevertheless is adamant that students need to be in school.

And with the county and state waiver granted for OJUSD elementary schools, the local campuses will soon welcome students back. It will be on a hybrid model, with one day of distancing learning for all, and two on-campus days during the week as well.

At each of the elementary sites, Cloverland, Fair Oak, Magnolia and Sierra View, the distance learning day on Monday for all will run from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Half of the students will then be on campus for Tuesday-Thursday in person classes, the other half will attend on campus classes Wednesday and Friday, with those on campus days running the regular schedule, roughly 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“This will be the best mix for the kids, we think,” Malone said. “We will also be doing a staggered release for lunch, kids will eat in the cafeteria or outside eating, but they will all stay in their co-hort and each class has a designated play area outside.”

The TK and kindergarten students will attend just their traditional half day while the first through sixth graders will attend the full day when they are on campus. Malone said they will stagger release times by a few minutes and also have designed areas for students to line up for busses or parent pick-up.

The goals, he said, are to get the students back to in person learning with their teachers while also keeping safety in mind.

“There is no substitute for a good classroom teacher and we have good classroom teachers,” he pointed out.

Malone also said the Oct. 19 date to return to classes was not picked at random. Rather, he explained, that will give teachers a chance to see students in the classroom setting, although briefly, before having previously scheduled parent-teacher conferences later this month.

Families were given the option of continuing on with their school year without returning to campus, and instead would go on independent study. Teachers would be additionally compensated for taking on those independent study students while also teaching their regular classroom students.

Malone said early estimates are that roughly 300 students will go the independent study route, while over 2,500 total students are anticipated to return to the four elementary sites.

“We’re very thankful the timing worked out,” the superintendent added of the Oct. 19 opening with the next week featuring the parent-teacher conferences.

He said there is some concern about students having difficulty maintaining grades during the online learning and part of what teachers will help gauge is whether that has resulted from a ‘disconnect’ with the virtual classroom or if the students need remedial intervention to get them back to grade level learning.

Students attending school two days a week on campus will also have a packet of work to complete at home for the days they are not in school, so there will be school work for the entire five days of the week. Face coverings and hand sanitizer will be available on campus and Malone said custodial crews will be focusing on cleanliness, especially in those high traffic areas with frequently touched surfaces.

“It’s not easy and there are a lot of opinions on the process,” Malone admitted of the district choosing to bring elementary students back.

It is because of the ability to keep them in smaller co-horts that the school board and administration feels confident but Malone said they don’t have a date yet for being able to bring the secondary students back, as the co-hort system won’t work at that level.

“You have to finally listen to a voice,” Malone summarized. “In our case, it’s the county public health officer; we’re going to listen to that voice, we so far have found that to be spot on.”