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Best place for students is classroom, says district

Lakeside Union School District Superintendent Andrew Johnsen opened a July 9 school board meeting where plans for the 2020-21 school year were unanimously approved by saying the best place for children to be learning is in the classroom with teachers.

“We believe that students are social beings and learning is a social activity. The achievement gaps that we’re all struggling with have only become wider and surveys have pretty consistently shown that school is where the majority want their kids,” Johnsen said.

Students have not been in classrooms since they were sent home March 13 in an effort to slow a potential surge in COVID-19 cases, then finished the 2019-20 school year through distance learning applications.

“As you know, we have been crafting a plan for returning to in-class instruction with guidelines from the California Department of Public Health as well as from San Diego Department of Health and Human Services, who are the local authorities here and also take their guidance from the California public health department,” Johnsen said.

The district laid out three options parents could choose for their children: fully classroom-based instruction, distance learning, or a home flex program that primarily focuses on at-home learning with some opportunities for in-class activities.

“If restrictions get tightened down on us in a couple weeks, we will come up with a hybrid program… This is the best plan we can put together as of July 9, based on guidance we have received,” Johnsen said.

According to the superintendent, elementary school students will have stable groupings with one teacher per set of students. Middle schoolers will be assigned in small groups to fewer teachers with staggered passing periods as well as distanced lunches to reduce potential for contact.

On campus, drinking fountains will be turned off in favor of refillable water sites; district-provided hand sanitizer will be available in all classrooms and offices.

Additionally, Johnsen said custodial crews will be sanitizing restrooms every hour and 300 no-touch thermometers have been ordered so teachers can perform a temperature check to screen for possible signs of a COVID infection before students are admitted to school.

Parent Beverly West questioned how Independent Education Plans would be handled for special education students who rotate classes regularly.

“I have one son that is in every single service so he can’t be stably grouped,” West said.

Pupil Services Director Natalie Winspear said the district will be considering how to meet the needs of each independent education plan on a case by case basis, as well as any special accommodations for staff members.

Assistant Superintendent Kim Reed said the distance learning plan is also an option for parents who do not yet want their children to return to campus.

“This distance learning plan is a little different from what we had in spring, which looked like it was put together in a hurry and in an attempt to be as equitable as possible to all involved. This one is a bit more thoughtful with key components being daily synchronous student interaction multiple times a day. It will be mainly small group instruction. Our plan emphasizes feedback; there will be grading but the emphasis will be on actionable feedback,” Reed said.

She emphasized that the primary difference between the on-campus and distance learning plans is the method by which lessons are delivered.

“Every student, whether they’re in class or doing distance learning will be doing equal work on the same standards,” Reed said.

Parent Crystal Grobner questioned how the district can synergize with local organizations and better support parents who ultimately choose distance learning.

“Not just trying to make this survivable but also a joyful experience and in the spirit of Lakeside shooting for the moon and landing among stars, how costly would it be to invest ahead of time rather than pay the cost of fixing it later when a teacher gets sick?” Grobner asked.

Lakeside Teachers Association President Cathy Sprecco said she and other teachers are concerned social distancing expectations for young children are unrealistic.

“If you’re sending 700 bodies to a campus at one time there is no way to practice physical distancing…Either we believe in the validity of science or we don’t; research and data matter so I hope as educators we’re using data in our decision making. I need you to know the teachers are concerned,” Sprecco said.

Johnsen said it would be impossible to put together a plan that is perfect for everybody but reiterated school year plans were formulated with data supplied to the district.

“In the event of an outbreak, Health and Human Services is saying they would work with the district to assess how bad an outbreak is and they would work with us to ascertain if a class or school closure is called for,” Johnsen said.

He said questions from the community can be sent directly to him at: ajohnsen@lsusd.net and he will channel them to the appropriate department.


Source: East County Californian

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