Details emerge as CUSD tightens plans for fall semester
by Mick Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org
The long list of uncertainties surrounding the upcoming school year just got a little shorter.
Claremont Unified School District’s Board of Education held a morning virtual community meeting Thursday to brief parents, caregivers and students on what it does and does not yet know regarding the fall semester, which begins September 2. A second meeting will be offered at 6 p.m. on Thursday night.
And as with previous CUSD Zoom meetings, interest was high. The 9 a.m. session was extended by 30 minutes due to the abundance of questions from the more than 450 people listening in that had not yet been answered by the scheduled 11 a.m. end time.
The presentation was led by Superintendent Jim Elsasser. It began with an overview of instruction, including the three options for student online education. Other CUSD specialists then talked about special education, wellness and mental health, childcare, athletics and extracurricular/co-curricular activities/performances and nutritional services.
Here are some of the highlights:
• All instruction will be online due to the district being in phase one with no students attending on campus classes.
• Families have three options from which to choose for the upcoming year: a blended learning program, CORE (Claremont Online Remote Education), or CHAMP (Claremont Home Alternative Mastery Program), and have until this Monday, August 3, to notify CUSD of their choice. If parents do not notify CUSD, they will automatically be enrolled in the blended learning program.
• Under blended learning students will “return to school as soon as it is safe,” 50/50 online and in-person. In the meantime while attending online they’ll have daily live interaction with teachers/peers. The state mandates transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students must have 180 minutes of instruction per day; grades one through three 230; and fourth through 12th graders 240. The mandate requires “daily live instruction and interaction with teachers” (synchronous) but does not specify how much instruction must be synchronous vs. asynchronous. CUSD is currently in the process of negotiating with its teachers’ association and is working on daily schedules. The district is asking for at least 50 percent synchronous instruction per day.
• Under the CHAMP option students will work from home with a parent or guardian delivering the instructional curriculum. A CUSD teacher will monitor, support and guide students and families, and students must meet virtually with a CUSD teacher for a one hour per week.
• With CORE, students are also home exclusively but will have an instructor to deliver the curriculum. An outside contractor, “Edgenuity,” may be your student’s teacher for those in grades seven through 12. Elementary school students are guaranteed a CUSD teacher.
• Students must stay with their chosen plan—blended, CORE or CHAMP—throughout the semester while in phase one. The district cited planning and staffing concerns as the reason.
• Though state guidelines say students must be “medically fragile, at risk, or self-quarantining” to qualify for CORE or CHAMP, Mr. Elsasser again reiterated that CUSD is “not going to ask for doctor’s notes. We’re not going to ask follow-up questions. We just ask that you interpret those three the way you feel is appropriate, and you select one of those as the option.”
• The district is tentatively saying the school day will run from approximately 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for students in the “blended learning,” and “CORE” programs, with roughly half the day for instructor guided “synchronous” learning, and the other half self-guided or “asynchronous.” Elementary students may start a half-hour later, at 8:30 a.m., but it’s not yet clear. Like traditional school, the day includes time for recess, breaks and a one-hour lunch period. Schedules will be released soon. “But there’s going to be flexibility,” Mr. Elsasser said. “We know that, especially in the [primary] grade level, that we’re going to have to be flexible, and where we start we may have to adjust as we get into this.”
• Those opting for “CHAMP,” or homeschool, will work at their own pace at times convenient to them.
• Childcare will not be offered during phase one.
• Sports competitions are cancelled for now, but some socially distanced in-person training is taking place.
• Technically, students who go with CHAMP or CORE will be unenrolled from their current schools and enrolled in those programs. When the district moves to phase two, CUSD will do everything possible to ensure students return to their previous, pre-pandemic schools. Inter- and intra-district transfer students will be allowed back to their chosen schools based on availability, just as in the pre-COVID days. Students in the blended learning program will see no change in their enrollment status.
• CUSD has created a new social media account for its wellness programs, “cusdwellness,” available on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
• Elementary school parent/teacher conferences will take place in the fall, likely over Zoom.
• Nutrition services will continue in a drive-through manner when school opens. The district is currently at work on a nutrition identification program for parents and caregivers to use when picking up meals.
• For students in the CORE and blended programs it’s unclear which classes Edgenuity—the outside contractor the district employs for help with online instruction—will teach CUSD students in the fall. The district is still negotiating with its teachers’ association to rework its employment agreements to reflect the change in working conditions. Additionally, it’s not yet clear just how many CUSD teachers will choose not to return in the fall for various reasons. As a result, the district says students from seventh through 12th grades may see a blend of CUSD and Edgenuity instructors. Elementary students will have CUSD instructors exclusively. CUSD has two coordinators that will be contacting secondary students (seventh through 12th) soon to look at their schedules and ways to accommodate them.
• Parents will have the support of their student’s teachers to help guide them through the various digital platforms the district will employ in the fall. CUSD will also offer several parent workshops to help parents navigate through the online demands of each of the three options.
• Claremont High School students will register in person, on campus. Families should look for details in communication from CHS Principal Brett O’Connor in the coming days.
• Curriculums for primary students will be uniform across the district. But while the material will be the same for every student, teachers will schedule it at their own pace.
• As it stands now, when schools reopen in phase two, all students and staff will be required to wear face coverings. “As long as [LADPH] mandates masks, we’ll mandate masks,” Mr. Elsasser said. He added that since CUSD has agency to be more conservative if it deems it necessary, if masks no longer mandated that doesn’t mean it would necessarily follow suit and allow people on campus without face coverings. “We just have to determine and make that decision based on data and trends here.”
• If a student contracts COVID after schools reopen in phase two, it would not necessarily result in the entire school shutting down. “Typically, one student would not shut down a school,” Mr. Elsasser said. “If it was an elementary student it could result in sending the students home in that classroom, and the teacher as well, for a period of quarantine. But we have very specific protocols and we work directly with the [Los Angeles] department of public health in the instance of any positive test result.” Additionally, the county protocols dictate that a school must be closed if its campus reaches a certain percentage of positive COVID cases. “We will of course follow those guidelines and protocols,” Mr. Elsasser said.
• There’s just no way to predict when CUSD will move into phase two and again allow some on-campus instruction. California Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered any school located in a county on the COVID watch list—currently 38, including Los Angeles County—must offer distance learning only.
And, even when LA County is removed from that list, “That does not mean that we will immediately move to phase two,” said Mr. Elsasser. “We will continue to monitor the data and trends and consider the time of the year; are we getting to the holidays? And is that a natural time to make a move, after the holidays? We just don’t know. There are so many unknowns that it’s impossible to predict when we will move to phase two. We won’t move to phase two until we are confident that we’re ready to ensure that we are keeping our students and staff as safe as possible. We will be very cautious and guarded as we move into phase two.”
For more information, go to CUSD’s website at https://www.cusd.claremont.edu.