Two state mandates — a later start time for high school students and a requirement students be masked — are not sitting well with some parents in the 24,500-student strong Manteca Unified School District.
Parents argue that after students have spent much of the summer without the need to wear face coverings coupled with the Centers for Disease Control guidelines that the requirement they believe is being imposed by the MUSD and the San Joaquin County Health Department needs to be re-considered.
There is one major flaw with that argument. Whether students wear masks or not is out of the control of local school districts or even county health departments. It is a mandate imposed on all kindergarten through 12th grade schools in the Golden State by the California Department of Public Health.
“We can’t risk not following the mandate,” MUSD Superintendent Clark Burke said. “Without it 24,000 plus students would not be able to do in person learning.”
Burke noted that California — and by extension Manteca Unified — is still dealing with a serious pandemic. COVID-19 has killed more than 140 people in Manteca and Lathrop since March 2020. At the same time the Delta variant is a growing concern for youth who are not vaccinated.
MUSD Director of Community Outreach Victoria Brunn noted the CDPH edict is not capricious or arbitrary.
By the state requiring masks it means if a student becomes ill or tests positive for COVID-19 it will not trigger a quarantine forcing the rest of the class back to distant learning.
“Any other student wearing a mask won’t need to be quarantined,” Brunn noted.
Students with confirmed medical reasons — just like when students returned to the classroom last November — will be granted exceptions to the mandate under state guidelines.
Brunn noted the mask requirement route taken by the CDPH means rigorous and absolute social distancing — whether it is 3 feet or 6 feet — won’t need to be an overriding concern in classrooms.
Individual schools are deciding what social distancing protocols worked effectively and will remain in effect when students return to class on Wednesday, Aug. 4. That ranges from whether multiple drop-off and pick-up zones to hallway social distancing rules that were instituted last school year.
Among things the district is keeping in place are hospital quality air scrubbers in classrooms and other spaces such as school offices.
Director of Facilities Aaron Bowers noted the air scrubbers on Monday helped staff breathe easier that has reported back to school sites to have minimal issues with the smoke that drifted into the Northern San Joaquin Valley from ongoing wildfires.
Later start times are
here to stay for high
school students statewide
Whether Manteca Unified school district administrators like it, later start times are here to stay for high school students.
That’s because they are mandated by legislation signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom to start high school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. by July 1, 2022.
The law was based on medical research that pointed to later start times benefitting most teens. That research concluded most teens are sleep deprived due to changes to their biological clocks that prevent them from going to sleep early. California was the first state to act on that research.
The district — through collective bargaining with teachers — implemented the 9 a.m. start time last year. The decision to do so was made to implement a number of changes required due to the pandemic and law changes at the same time instead of spreading them out over multiple years.
The decision for Manteca Unified to go with 9 a.m. start times for high school was driven by the fact middle school students — sixth and seventh graders — under the new law can’t start required classes any earlier than 8 a.m.
Due to the need to transport students without an expensive expansion of the school bus fleet, the district needs an hour between start times in order to bus all K-8 and high school students that rely on to and from school transportation.
Even if the district doesn’t restore busing for K-12 students that live beyond a certain walking distance of their respective campuses, they are mandated by the state to bus special education students as well as foster and homeless children.
As a result elementary schools now start at 8 a.m.
Later start poses
issues for high schools
The 9 a.m. start for high school means the last bell is at 4 p.m.
That creates issues for high schools when it comes to sports as well as those students who have jobs that their families rely on for homecoming.
Schools will need to juggle practices and games on all levels — freshmen, junior varsity, and varsity — with more than an hour of less time after school.
It is expected to become problematic when Daylight Savings Time starts.
“We may have to look at before school practices for baseball and other sports,” noted Deputy Superintendent Roger Goatcher.
At the very least, more games and practices are likely to take place under lights.
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