Lodi Unified readies for full return to campus

Wes Bowers, Lodi News-Sentinel, Calif.
·6 min read

Apr. 10—The majority of Lodi Unified School District students will return to full-time, in-person instruction Monday, and superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer this week said staff, parents and children should not expect the school day to be what it was in 2019.

"We need to acknowledge that things are not going to be exactly as they were pre-pandemic," she said during the Board of Education's Tuesday meeting.

"That is an important thing for all of us to remember," she said. "Classroom activities may not always be the same because of safety measures and distancing. There may be parts of the curriculum or activities that were well liked by students or favorites of teachers that may have to be modified or adjusted, or just not done because they can't be accomplished in that format."

With Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines now recommending students need only be three feet apart on campus, Washer said school sites may need to modify classrooms by either rearranging furniture or storing some fixtures away temporarily.

She added some schools may need to use outdoor areas for classes, and that staff has already begun ordering tables and chairs for that purpose.

"It's not going to be a perfect state," Washer said. "Nothing ever is, and as we learn, we need to adjust. School sites will make their adjustments, and we'll make adjustments district-wide. We need to know what kinds of things need attention so we can give them that attention. We need to be able to be flexible throughout the rest of the year to make this work."

Leonard Kahn, the district's chief business officer, said both staff and students will be given the opportunity to take a free COVID-19 test every other month, as well as when any outbreak or exposure has been reported on campus.

The district is currently looking into an anonymous surveillance program that would allow staff to test students eight at a time to detect a potential exposure. The tests would not produce individual results for each student.

Rather, tests would be administered to eight students at once, and if one results in a positive, those eight students would then be given the individual test to determine who had been exposed to or contracted COVID-19.

Staff is interested in launching a pilot testing program at Washington Elementary, Millswood Middle and McNair High schools. All testing would completely voluntary, and no testing can occur without prior parent permission, Kahn said.

"It would be an added measure to assure everybody of exactly where were are in terms of this infection rate in our school district," he said.

In the event of an exposure in a classroom, Kahn said everybody that is exposed will be sent home for 10 days.

However, he said the California Department of Public Health is allowing students to return to campus if the symptoms they display are not related to COVID-19.

"Given things like allergies and that type of thing, if a student exhibits symptoms, the site is to remove a student from the classroom and place them in an isolation room, call a parent ... hopefully goes to get the kid tested," Kahn said.

"If the kid is negative and follows up as asymptomatic, the student may return to school," he added. "They don't have to sit out the 10 days. If it's an ongoing thing, we will accept a doctor's note that it is an ongoing thing and not COVID, and the student can return to school."

Washer said that masks will be required on campus, and schools will have extras on-hand for those who don't bring their own. If a student refuses to wear a mask or accept one from school staff, their parents will be contacted.

"If it has to be that they will be put on a distance learning program, that's what we'll have to do," she said.

Students not comfortable with returning to campus full-time will be allowed to remain on distance learning for the remainder of the school year. As of March 24, some 3,200 elementary school students elected the distance-learning option, along with 2,240 high school students and 850 middle school students.

Ariana Galvan, one of the board's student representatives, said she will be returning to campus Monday, but many of her Tokay High School classmates are apprehensive.

"A lot of students in my class, first period specifically, one student expressed the fear of going back in person, and when my teacher told him he could do distance learning, he said that changing all of his schedule and his teachers was too difficult for him, and that would actually be worse than going back in-person," she said.

"I do better being with my teachers and talking with them," she added. "I'm actually glad we're going back and would take a week going back (over distance learning) at the least."

A few teachers who spoke during the meeting said while they were excited to see their students in classrooms again, they were worried the district had not completely planned how to instruct students on campus and those learning remotely simultaneously.

"I'm so excited to have my students back in the class full time, but I still have nine out of 23 students on distance learning," Clairmont Elementary School teacher Bethany Harris said.

"I really appreciated the hybrid and Wednesdays distance-learning schedule to catch up with my distance learners and create an assignment," she said. "Now that we're back full days next week, I have less time to create the digital assignments and resources for distance learners and give them the check-in support they might need."

Under the district's hybrid model, which was implemented March 29 when students kindergarten through sixth grade returned to campus, students were split into two groups, with one attending class on Mondays and Thursdays, and the other attending Tuesdays and Fridays.

All students were learning remotely on Wednesdays.

Rebecca Bratcher, a special day class teacher at Beckman Elementary School, said she still has three students on distance learning, and with a full return to campus next week, she won't have time to help them while instructing kids in the classroom. She said her students need as long as six weeks to adjust to the hybrid model before the district considers a full return to campus, and that she did not have the routines down to teach in a classroom all day and communicate with students still at home.

"I've been told I should just divide my time, have my (paraeducators) teach my in-person students while I'm working with students on Zoom," she said. "I don't know if you've been in a classroom with 11 special needs students who consistently make noise while trying to be on a phone call or in a Zoom conference and trying to hear those students while they're at home. There is no way for me to physically divide my attention."

Board members did not respond to students' or teachers' concerns during the discussion, but unanimously approved a return to campus Monday at 8 a.m.