The Wasco Union Elementary School District will not be returning to in-class learning during the third quarter, Superintendent Kelly Richers told school board members at a meeting Jan. 12.
"Back when the county was in the 'red' level, we were told that if we applied for our schools to have students we could then keep them in school even if we went to the 'purple' level again," Richers said. "We have special education classes at all schools except Clemens, so we opened those other five schools to students in mild/moderate and moderate/severe students. We were forced to close those classrooms because of the outbreak in November of covid-19."
Richers added that since November, Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed - legislature has not approved - that if schools are open according to a plan he has, the plan includes the level "deep purple," which would allow schools to open only if all students and staff were tested every week. Richers said that at the present time, the infrastructure is not in place and it is not feasible.
"If the county is in purple, testing has to be done every two weeks, which is more of a possibility," Richers said. "However, since Clemens was not opened under that 'red' level, it cannot open unless other conditions have been met and a new plan has been written. Therefore, we still have no plans to open school in the foreseeable future."
Richers said until the covid infection rate falls below 28/100,000 (it is currently at 129/1000) "We cannot possibly open. We could not return students to five schools without including Clemens either."
Richers commented that Newsom's "Safe Schools for All" plan has raised hopes that schools could reopen this school year, and he is pressing for that to happen.
"However," Richers said. "There are many challenges that I am monitoring that impact the possible reopening."
Richers said to begin with, covid-19 is spreading across the state at a rapid rate.
"In California at the present time there are only two of the 58 counties not in purple," he said. "To talk of reopening schools is problematic, especially with a new re-contagious strain appearing and people not following isolation rules, (including the governor himself). Therefore there is a totally contradictory message being sent (stay at home order in effect) and 'Hey, send your kids back to school indoors with multiple households interacting!'"
Richers added that low-income districts such as those presented in a letter from Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach, San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento have told the governor that infection rates are far higher there and they could not qualify for the plan. Therefore this is advantageous to higher income school areas.
"Next, the logistics are daunting," Richers said "Testing everyone including all students and all staff attending school every two weeks is mandated, with the responsibility for that put upon the schools."
Richers added that even if this were to be something that might work, the unions have to be brought along and negotiations must be made with them in order to bring students back. These will result in differing forms of student interaction in different districts, forcing inequality and inequity on some districts.
Richers also stated that because of the denigration and loss of status for teachers, the bodies are not there.
"A huge teacher shortage and substitute teacher shortage exists, again factoring against rural districts having the power to attract them at this time to fill the ranks needed," he said.
He also mentioned that the vaccinations for teachers and staff have not appeared and asked where they are.
"Funding is always an issue," Richers said. "We have estimates, but a market crash could wipe these out in a week and middle grade students need a completely different path, with set periods of different core subjects. The governor has not even addressed this at all."
Richers continued, "And last but certainly looming as the elephant in the room, what percentage of parents want to send their students to school in this situation? Estimates from surveys indicate 50 to 35% of parents will even send their students to school. How do you teach the in-school and at-home students simultaneously? In my experience, even college professors struggle with this."
Richers concluded by saying the school district will not return to in-person learning during the third quarter and a decision on the fourth quarter will be made closer to the quarter's start.