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CUSD’s new normal starts when elementary classes open April 12

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

Barring a hiccup, some elementary level students will be back in classes April 12, Claremont Unified School District announced last week. 

“This tentative date will still depend on a number of factors, such as continued approval for in-person instruction from L.A. County Department of Public Health, successful negotiations of working conditions with our associations, and staff having access to the vaccine, which is anticipated in early March,” wrote interim Superintendent Julie Olesniewicz in her February 19 email to families, which was also posted on the district’s website.

“We’re aiming for it,” Ms. Olesniewicz told the COURIER. “We’re very optimistic. I don’t see too many obstacles in our way, so we’re aiming for the twelfth [of April].”

The target date is for blended program students in grades transitional kindergarten (TK) through sixth grade. Current elementary level students in the district’s Blended Learning program will be switched over to in-person learning, unless they opt to move over to CUSD’s distance learning programs, CHAMP or CORE.

Current CHAMP or CORE students will have to contact student services if they wish to switch to in-person school. If they do nothing, they will remain in their current distance learning programs, with their same teachers, when campuses open April 12.

Although some kids will likely be back in classes in a little over six weeks, the school day will resemble nothing anyone has seen before.

Maximum class sizes for TK through third grade are 24, with fourth through sixth at 34. But those numbers will be divided in two due to L.A. County’s current social distancing requirements for in-person learning at elementary schools, which dictate students must be six feet apart.

Claremont in-person learners will see their classes divided into two groups, cohorts A and B. Students in cohort A will attend Monday and Tuesday, and those in cohort B will attend Thursday and Friday. On Wednesdays all on-campus students will be working from home. So, the maximum amount of students sitting at desks on a given day in a classroom will be 12 in TK through third, and 17 for fourth through sixth.

“Then they’ll go home, and then the teachers are going to jump online and do synchronous with the kids that are at home,” said Ms. Olesniewicz. Teachers “really felt strongly that they wanted to make face-to-face contacts with their students all week.”

Click here for a detailed look at the district’s phase II schedule.

Families planning on sending their students back to class will hear from principals over the coming weeks as to how cohorts will work at their respective schools. There is a chance families will have an option to choose their preferred cohort, though it’s likely schools will assign them, Ms. Olesniewicz said.

Families will also likely have the opportunity to switch cohorts after they’re assigned, based on each individual school’s available space, she added.

Along with opening classrooms April 12, the district will also restart its Best Learning After School Time (BLAST) afterschool care program. What that will look like though, is still being determined.

“There are some pretty tight numbers on the daycare as to how many kids we can serve and staffing,” said CUSD Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources, Kevin Ward. “I anticipate we will be able to offer daycare at every elementary school site. I don’t know how many days that’s going to be just yet.”

Capacity is the main obstacle to solving the BLAST question, Mr. Ward said. Prior to COVID, a BLAST staff of three or four would supervise up to 100 kids. Post coronavirus, L.A. County says that ratio must be two staff members for every 14 students.

“Marrying the needs of our families with our ability to do that, that’s the big question right now,” Mr. Ward said. “It’s kind of a nightmare. But that’s what we’re faced with right now.”

Mr. Ward added he hoped as many as possible of the approximately 21 BLAST employees who were laid off in August 2020 would come back.

Ms. Olesniewicz said families who want to change to in-person classes after doors open in mid-April will be able to do so as long as there’s room in their school.

“They just need to call student services requesting any changes, and they’ll let them know what schools and what grades have room,” she said.

The reason previously distance learning students aren’t guaranteed an in-person spot at their previous school has to do, again, with staffing.

“When CORE and CHAMP were developed, schools lost a whole bunch of kids,” Ms. Olesniewicz said. “When you lose a hundred kids to CORE or CHAMP, you lose teachers and you lose classrooms. So those classrooms aren’t there. The assumption is those classrooms will be back next year, when we bring kids back” in August for the start of the 2021-22 school year.

“Our biggest point when all this came down we ensuring our families had a choice,” she added. “Throughout the year we have had families go back and forth. We told them in the beginning it’s all pending room, but we’ve been able to meet the needs of our families so far. Once I announced the date we had families call and say they would like to move their kids from the online program to coming to school, and we’ve had parents who say that they’re not comfortable sending their kids back and they want to sign up for the CORE or CHAMP program.”

Another possible sticking point to all this, albeit a remote one, are the ongoing negotiations with the Claremont Faculty Association (CFA) and Claremont Chapter 200 of the California School Employees Association (CSEA) over memoranda of understanding (MOUs)—essentially change orders to the unions’ previously negotiated working conditions. The MOUs must be in place before the union members—teachers, office workers, janitors and other non-classified district employees—return to work.

“It’s going well and I hope to come to an agreement in another week or two,” said Mr. Ward. “That, I would say is my optimistic projection. Looking at this April 12 deadline and working backwards from that, we really need to come to an agreement in the next couple of weeks, because it takes a couple of weeks after that to implement all of that. You need some time for sites to work on those matters.”

One of the major sticking points in the negotiations had been providing school employees, including teachers, access to COVID vaccines prior to going back to work. That now seems to have worked itself out, as L.A. County has said teachers and other school employees will be eligible to receive vaccines March 1.

As the wheels continue to turn on all the plans that need to be in place prior to opening up schools after what will have been a 13-month break marked by all manner of darkness, some are beginning to allow themselves a welcome morsel of happy anticipation.

“We cannot wait to see our students, cannot wait to hear laughter again,” Ms. Olesniewicz said. “I just got off the phone with a principal a little while ago and she was saying how her staff is just delighted and can’t wait.”

Meanwhile, it appears L.A. County intermediate and high schools may one day soon be cleared to reopen as well.

Adjusted case rates in Los Angeles County—the weekly average number of daily new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents—fell to 12.3 this week. That number was 20 last week, 33.1 the previous week and 38.7 prior to that. It had been as high as 75 during the peak of the latest virus surge in January.

The L.A. County Department of Health says adjusted case rates must for five days running be at or below seven per 100,000 before middle and high schools can open their doors.

If trends hold, we may hit that milestone as soon as next week.

At that point though, one has to wonder if CUSD will try. It’s a complicated process, as we’ve seen with the negotiations required to get elementary schools open. All that work would have to be repeated at the secondary level.

With the end of the school year just a few months off, would the considerable time and resources necessary to get El Roble, San Antonio and CHS open this year be better spent this fall in preparing for a full-on celebratory reopening for 2021-22?

Or would it all be worth it to avoid having a second consecutive senior class denied all its epoch ending in-person rituals?

Time will tell.

 

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