It is indeed an unprecedented time, as the Oakdale Joint Unified School District continues to monitor Stanislaus County COVID cases to navigate what is next for its student body.
The meeting, Monday, March 8 was no different as members of the school board gathered for the monthly scheduled meeting. Primary topic of discussion: returning students to school.
While it may seem simple to navigate from the sidelines, District staff shared plans with the board to make the transition from Distance Learning to Hybrid, as well as from Hybrid to in-school learning.
OJUSD Student Board member Caroline Krum called in from home expressing her concern with the board of returning in a capacity which will allow for a high school graduation.
“I know that everyone would like to have their families there and would like people to be able to watch,” the OHS senior said of a potential graduation, “but I think that something that’s important is to see our classmates. I’ve seen my family through all of quarantine but a lot of my classmates I truly haven’t seen since last March.”
Krum made a point of noting the difference between the Class of 2020 versus 2021 being that the previous class was able to start the school year and attend through March, while the class of 2021 has yet to be present on campus.
“We all went through this year together and it was a very difficult year,” she continued. “I think that’s something I want to strive for and hope for, if it’s at all possible even if we can’t have guests or family or parents to come.”
The student board member also voiced concern of students returning to campus in the coming weeks and not taking the precautions and protocol seriously. She added that she hopes the students take it seriously, as well as the teachers enforcing it.
Community members of varying viewpoints called in during the public comment portion of the meeting to share thoughts, as well as questions with the board. In keeping with protocol questions were not answered by the board during this time, yet some were addressed by Superintendent Marc Malone at the conclusion of the meeting.
One caller offered support and praise to the board, expressing gratitude toward Malone and his team for how they have navigated thus far.
“You guys have done everything you can to keep our kids safe,” she said. “I’m the mom of a senior this year. I’m just very happy Mr. Malone with everything you and the board are doing to keep the kids safe.”
The caller echoed student board member Krum’s thoughts on the Class of 2021 and a desire for the board to find a way to host an in-person graduation.
Another caller voiced concerns about the ongoing strain on students and the impact she sees the distance learning having overall.
In response to the word “resilient” used to describe Oakdale students, the caller stated, “This could not be further from the truth. They are struggling, they have given up and they are continually being sacrificed.”
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Kristi Rapinchuk presented the board with an extensive “next step” report regarding the TK-12 Instructional Model.
“It’s been the intent of the Oakdale Joint Unified School District to return students to campus as soon as the Stanislaus County Health Office deemed it safe to do so,” Rapinchuk stated. “The rationale behind that intent being that most students learn best in person. Teachers teach best in person and at risk students can receive the most effective intervention in person.”
She also noted the change in the social distancing guidelines by Stanislaus County from 6 feet to 4 feet, an instrumental change allowing grades TK-6 to return to the classroom full time four days a week.
“This is allowing us to come forward and say a solid next step for our elementary sites is to move our TK through sixth grade from the hybrid schedule into a four day model and continue our extended short term independent student program,” Rapinchuk explained.
Oakdale elementary schools retuned to a Hybrid schedule in mid-October. The proposal of returning to four days of all day instruction will be Tuesday through Friday with Monday remaining a distance learning day.
Rapinchuk noted the reasoning for maintaining one day of Distance Learning stating, “We anticipate that there will be times when we will need to isolate and quarantine. We’ve been able to do that very efficiently thus far because we have the distance learning model in place. So we want to keep that distance learning model in place on Mondays so the students know where to go for virtual learning.”
Since the start of the academic school year, secondary sites (Oakdale Junior High and Oakdale High) have remained on 100 percent Distance Learning. During the November school board meeting the decision was made to return grades 7 through 12 to a Hybrid schedule beginning mid-March. In order to do so, Stanislaus County must be in the Red Tier for two consecutive weeks. However, it remains in the more restrictive Purple Tier at this time, pushing back a potential hybrid date for secondary schools until at least March 29.
The difference between a 7-12 Hybrid schedule versus a TK-6 Hybrid has to do with changing of classes, a fact which presents a separate set of challenges. To accommodate proper distancing class size as well as the varying class periods, both campuses – when allowed to open – will adhere to students divided into equal Cohorts for instruction, one red and one gold. Red Cohorts will attend half day in person learning Tuesday and Thursday; Gold will attend Wednesday and Friday. All 7-12 students will attend Distance Learning on Mondays, as well as afternoon instruction on-line Tuesday through Friday.
“Stanislaus County has recommended only a half day schedule for Junior High and High School campuses with students attending only three periods of instruction each day,” Rapinchuk noted. “However our OJUSD teachers serving students 7 through 12 will be available to provide guided instruction each afternoon Tuesday through Friday which is available to every student every day. The District trusts their professional judgement to use the time to the most effective way possible for the assigned courses and their students.”
The potential Hybrid re-open of March 29 could occur if the county reports Red Tier the next two weeks.
As the 7 through 12 students await the re-open Hybrid, the board approved TK through third grade to return to the four day model on March 22 and grades 4 through 6 on April 12, following Spring Break.
The difference in return time for 4 through 6 students was noted due to an increase in class size, as well as physical size difference in the upper grades.
“In order for our 4 through 6 grade classes to get the spacing some of our teachers may have to move classrooms,” Assistant Superintendent Dr. Dave Kline stated, “to accommodate for the number of students, for the size of some of our students as well.”
Once in place, the Hybrid schedule for 7 through 12 students will have a lunch period of 45 minutes before students report for the mandatory afternoon on-line portion of their school day.
Taking some phoned in questions regarding the new Hybrid for upper grades, one caller, identifying herself as the mother of an eighth grade student, expressed concern in travel time for students like her son who will ride the bus to their rural Oakdale home and may not arrive in time for the second half of the school day virtually.
“I would like to better understand how this will work for the students on the bus,” the caller said, “particularly for those that may find themselves on the bus at the time that classes are starting in the afternoon?”
Kline addressed the caller, noting that he had spoken with the Transportation Director and been assured that the two sites would be bussed separately during the Hybrid schedule to allow for timely return home.
“They should be able to get home in time for Distance Learning,” Kline said. “In the event that they can’t what we do have, is we have hot spots that will be placed on the bus for the students to use as well.”
That would allow the students to ‘get’ to class virtually even when they are not yet off the school bus.
“Based on the information right now we can get our students home on time,” Kline continued, “but if we can’t all students will have their devices. All students will be one to one and they’ll have access to a hot spot while on the bus.”
The next OJUSD meeting will be hosted on Monday, April 19 at 6:30 p.m. To access information to attend the meeting virtually or call in visit www.ojusd.org.