Seismic shifts in Manteca Unified schools that will have ramifications for years to come are being accelerated — and arguably being given minimal thought by the general public — due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The major changes include:
*One out of every 12 students have signed up for priority registration for the district’s new 100 percent online academy that is not the same as distance learning that students could be switched to due to COVID-19 conditions during the coming school year. That is the equivalent of 2,000 students that — if they were aggregated together — would empty two existing elementary campuses.
*The start time for high school students will be pushed back to 9 a.m. while elementary schools will all start earlier at 8 a.m. That is to avoid making major changes in back-to-back school years. The later start time for high school students must be in place under a state mandate by August 2022.
*To and from school busing for non-special education students could be cut. COVID-19 guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control require bus capacity to be slashed by two thirds. That would drive the per rider annual cost of busing a non-special education students from $3,500 to more than $10,000. The costs of the mandated bus service for special education students would soar from $11,000 annually to more than $33,000. The additional costs would require taking money essentially away from classrooms as the state does not pay for school busing.
Most of the attention is being focused on the board decision Monday adopting a three phase plan for the school year starting Aug. 6 along with the option of the district’s new 100 percent online academy.
The three phases are learning models that the board has empowered District Superintendent Clark Burke to decide on pursuing after details are worked out with employee unions.
The board’s preference is to start with “phase two.” It is a blended learning model of 50 percent off campus and 50 percent on campus. That will reduce class sizes in half to roughly 17 students per teacher at a given time.
The board, however, directed the learning model reflect allowable conditions concerning public health.
That means Burke could switch all or some campuses depending upon conditions to 100 percent off-campus learning if COVID-19 conditions required it. The off-campus learning is being aligned to current base programming and ensures seamless transition from in person to virtual learning as needed.
The third phase, if conditions allow, would be for 100 percent on-campus learning. That means full-time, modified on-campus programming. Inclusive of all reasonable wellness practices and safeguards with regular class sizes.
While County Schools Superintendent James Mousalimas and County Health Officer Dr. Maggie Park “strongly recommend” schools start with distant learning in part because the state isn’t expected to issue their guidelines for school reopening until September a full month after the start of the school year for the majority of the state’s public school systems, that could change.
If Mousalimas adopts distance learning as the county schools issued protocol, local districts have the option not to follow suit. But if the county health department orders students not to return to campus local districts have to comply.
In addition the Manteca Educators Association is pressuring the district to start the school year with distance learning. They are staging a rally Thursday at 8:30 a.m. outside the district office on Louise Avenue to protest students physically returning to school on Aug. 6.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com