Manteca Unified will start the school year on Aug. 6 with distance learning in place.
The decision Wednesday shelved a previous plan to start the school year with blended learning with half of the students in classrooms at one time while the other half involved with remote online learning to reinforce what teachers instruct them in person.
Manteca Unified was the last school district in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties to hold out for a blended learning start to the school year until District Superintendent Clark Burke announced the decision.
Pressure had been mounting by state and county officials to discourage schools from in-person learning out of concern various measures being implemented would not be enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 given a surge in the number of people testing positive. Manteca Unified has already spent more than $1 million (the figure was incorrectly reported as more than $100,000 in Wednesday’s Bulletin) on purchasing personal protection equipment for students and staff plus making campus modifications such as converting all water fountains into stations that could only be used to fill water bottles.
All of those improvements and PPE acquisitions will be put to use when students are allowed to return to campuses for in-classroom learning.
Burke, on the recommendations of San Joaquin Superintendent of County Schools James Mousalimas and SJ County Health Director Dr. Maggie Park, also has cancelled ceremonies for 2020 graduating seniors that had been planned for Aug. 1.
The move prompted the Manteca Educators Association to cancel a rally this morning at the Manteca Unified office complex to protest the reopening of schools.
Burke stressed that the distance learning that will be put in place for at least 22,000 students will not be the same as the crisis learning response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nor is it the same as the new online Manteca Unified academy that currently has 2,000 students registered.
The online academy is a free standing student learning option with a specifically tailored curriculum fashioned and taught by Manteca Unified educators. It will include periodic in-person, one-on-one student and teacher meetings.
The distance learning that other students will start on Aug. 6 is designed to allow transition seamlessly into the hybrid learning model with an average teacher having 17 students in a classroom while the other 17 learn remotely. That will happen when COVID-19 conditions allow it.
The other big difference between the distance learning for the 22,000 students not part of the online academy and what students were switched to in the spring when the pandemic broke out is schools will function as in-person support centers for students.
Burke said that means students will be able to meet one-on-one with teachers and possibly in small groups on various campuses. How that will happen will be determined after administrators confer with the Manteca Educators Association as they solidify programs and schedules.
The goal is to have teachers accessible on campus during the school day. That was not always the case when stay at home orders last spring completely shut schools down except for a skeleton crew of staff to support distance learning.
“We will continue to provide on campus support services and opportunities to address barriers for students including learning centers, access to socio-emotional support resources, mental health resources, and specialized services for our most critical population of students,” Burke noted in a letter to parents.
It is also possible that a number of special education students depending on their individual needs could be taught in some fashion at schools.
Clarke noted the only thing that would sideline the ability of a struggling student from meeting one-on-one with a teacher or accessing support services at their home campus would be an order from the county department of health or the State Department of Education prohibiting such activity.
Clarke stressed when such campus services are accessed or student-teacher meetings take place all required social distancing and COVID-19 protocols will be implemented. Teachers will have school district issued face masks and other appropriate personal protection equipment while 6-foot distancing will be in place.
The district now has 22 days to get the distance learning up and running.
Unlike other school years they will be dealing with the fact students in almost all cases will never have meet their teachers in person. That may be most challenging for those starting kindergarten and students starting their first year of high school.
Burke said the district’s push to bring students on campus for in-person teaching and its effort to make distance learning for the 22,000 students that have not opted for the 100 percent online academy to include access to support services and teachers on a one-to-one basis when need be is based on the belief “students need to see and learn directly from their teachers in person.”
What that goal creates a lot of issues the district has to address to allow it to happen with the distance learning starting Aug. 6, Burke said it is worth it “because it’s better for students.”
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