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Funds will also help overcome learning loss due to COVID
outdoor clasroom
Some of the $49.7 million Manteca Unified is receiving in COVID relief funding may go to building more outdoor classrooms such as this one at Neil Hafley School.

The $49.7 million Manteca Unified is expected to receive from the $1.9 trillion federal COVID-19 relief package will go toward stepped up efforts to help students make up for learning loss as well as fund efforts to work toward the return of students to the classroom full-time.

“We will pursue learning loss mitigation,” noted MUSD Community Outreach Director Victoria Brunn.

Data gleaned so far by the district shows learning loss created by distance learning exists at all grade levels but is especially acute at kindergarten through the third grade.

Brunn said the district is exploring long-term return from short-term investments in both the realms and classroom improvements that further enhance health.

At the same time the top priority is to get students back into the classroom full-time. Part of the money will go toward improvements designed to make that happen as the pandemic lingers.

“Our absolute goal is to have students on campus full time,” Brunn emphasized.

That may require even more investment in classroom and campus equipment to further minimize the potential for the spread of COVID-19.

“We need to keep in mind this is one time funding so it can’t be tied to salaries that are a reoccurring expense,” Brunn said.

Specific plans haven’t yet been developed nor decisions made yet on how the money will be used, although discussions include the following:

*Implementing programs for learning loss mitigation. This could involve contracting for tutorial services.

*More social-emotional support services for students. One solution is to significantly expand the district’s contract with Valley Community Counseling Service to have a counselor available at every district campus.

*Exploring even more ways to improve classroom air ventilation. That is in addition to portable medical grade air scrubbers already in each classrooms and upgrades to HVAC unit filtration systems that is currently in progress.

*Building more outdoor classrooms such as the one in place at Neil Hafley School. They involve shade structures with seating with a small block building equipped with a white board, electricity, wireless Internet and other instructional needs to serve as the “teaching stage”.

 *Expanding Student English Language Acquisition (SELA) for non-English learners.

*Looking at replacing classroom furniture such as student desks that are 20 to 25 years old made of materials not easy to sanitize and are larger than modern desks that are smaller in size due to changes in how students are taught. That could go a long way toward making classrooms being able to hold pre-pandemic student capacities while accomplishing the California Department of Health mandated four foot classroom separation.

*Exploring ways to expand Science Technology Engineering & Math (STEM) offerings.

*Looking at the possibility of battery storage for solar panels so that planned or inadvertent PG&E power outages don’t disrupt schools.

Brunn said administrators and teachers are exploring investments that address the current crisis and get students back into the classroom that will also have a positive impact even after the pandemic becomes history.

The best example of that is finding even more ways to improve classroom ventilation.

The investment in portable air scrubbers and upgrading HVAC filters, as an example, will also work to battle illness in a typical school year. Flu and cold are traditionally the highest reasons for absenteeism. The equipment bought to date will be able to be used going forward to reduce student and teacher absences and therefore assure more days of in-school learning.

Those same scrubbers and filters would also serve as a benefit on bad air days, which are a major issue given San Joaquin Valley ranks as one of the worst air basins in several categories. They also would help during the perennial wildfire seasons where burning forests dump smoke and soot for days on end into the Central Valley air basin that Manteca Unified is located in.

Even without the air scrubbers the district now has, Manteca Unified was one of the few school districts in the area that opted not to close at the height of the most recent wildfire season where soot fell for several days in Manteca, Lathrop, and Weston Ranch. The district’s rationale was simple. Most of its students are from families where both parents work and would be left at home unattended. Also for a large number of students Manteca Unified is often the source of the only nutritious meals they receive on any given day.

Manteca Unified when the pandemic hit was among school districts that had a three-year budget in place with reserves aimed at making the state mandated goal possible.

It is an approach the district embraced to avoid the potential for layoffs when state funding hits bumps. It is based on the belief that having a steady teaching staff pays off in better student learning.

They also used one-time money the state owed districts after withholding partial funding during the Great Recession for non-reoccurring expenses. The prime example was the decision to devote $30 million plus in such one time funds to making sure every student from kindergarten though 12th grade had digital devices and that the district had the infrastructure to support them and future growth in numbers of people using the district’s system as well as bandwidth.

That allowed the district when the pandemic hit and distance learning become mandatory not to have to spend money on short notice while scrambling to get devices as many districts had to do.

Critics say that the district could not have foreseen the pandemic coming. However the approach they took with how best to roll out devices for all levels using one-time money made it possible to do all at once. That better prepared Manteca Unified for the unforeseen pandemic.

The robust reserves allowed the district to get a jump on buying items necessary for a return to campus even before the state finally issued orders for what schools needed.

As a result, state grants have covered all of the $24.1 million the district has spent to date on COVID protocols and adapting programs to eliminate or minimize students using the same objects whether it is a pair of scissors or water fountains as well as training sessions for teachers to do 100 percent remote instruction.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email