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Secondary Grade Levels See Reopening Struggles
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Empty hallways at junior high and high schools throughout the county might remain that way; officials note it is much harder to get secondary students back into classrooms by virtue of the learning model and kids rotating throughout the campus as opposed to self-contained classes at the elementary level.

As elementary students returned to campuses around Oakdale this week, with COVID-19 protocols in place for their protection, and Stanislaus County dropped down to the less-restrictive red tier infection level, many parents are hoping the older kids are next to return to campus.

That very topic of concern will be discussed at the Monday, Nov. 9 Oakdale Joint Unified School District board meeting but the answer parents are looking for remains an elusive target.

OJUSD Superintendent Marc Malone is the first to admit, the solution is as clear as mud when it comes to returning grades 7-12 back to campuses as the state protocols simply aren’t possible at the upper grade level.

“As of today, our options are limited to nonexistent if we do not receive clarification on the guidance previously published by the California Department of Public Health,” Malone said. “Currently the protocols for grades 7-12 are exactly the same as grades TK-6 and therein lies the issue. TK-6 protocols do not work for a comprehensive school in grades 7-12.”

Malone explained, the expectation in the state guidance is that, “Students must remain in the same space and in cohorts as small and consistent as practicable, including for recess and lunch. Keep the same students and teacher or staff with each group, to the greatest extent possible. This guidance works for grades TK-6 because they are in self-contained classrooms. This guidance does not work for grades 7-12, because students change classes each period. In addition, most classes at grade 9-12 have multiple grades in each class. Cohorting is virtually impossible and attempts to do so would create systemic dysfunction at this point in the year. This guidance is problematic for the entirety of Stanislaus County.”

The rising frustration level on both sides of the aisle — administrative and parents — is the only consistent factor in this constantly fluid situation. Added to the fact that a second surge of infections is predicted in the coming weeks, which could push Stanislaus County out of the red tier once more, makes for a challenging environment in which to make decisions that ultimately affect a lot of people.

And it’s virtually impossible to meet everyone’s needs or expectations in this situation.

“Opinions on this topic range from those that will not return students to school unless there is a fully vetted vaccine to those that would bring their students back tomorrow if we could put the system in place,” Malone admitted. “In communication to the OJUSD, I would not say one side or the other on this issue has been more vocal. The OJUSD Board of Trustees and I hear frequently from the full gamut of opinion.”

The solution is still far off but parents are getting antsy as they watch their kids’ grades plummet, creating a sense of helplessness for parents and students.

Malone agreed that plummeting grades are troubling, particularly for student athletes who must adhere to a 2.0 grade point average in order to remain eligible.

“Grades are a definite concern for all our students,” Malone said. “Related to our athletes, we are hopeful that the continued contact by our coaches with our athletes will minimize the number that become ineligible.”

The OJUSD has a longstanding board policy that allows students to ‘petition’ for academic eligibility five weeks into the next grading period if they are ineligible as a result of the previous grading period.

Malone added, “We anticipate there will be some athletes that will need to use the petition process.”

Formal fall sports are still scheduled to begin on Dec. 7 but that date remains tentative based on direction from multiple state and county agencies.

It’s anticipated that the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) will need to weigh-in on this topic in the coming weeks to discuss the reduced fall sports schedule.