Staggered sessions are among the numerous options being vetted as Manteca Unified educators face the daunting task of trying to figure what format the start of the next school year will take.
The need to social distance and the use of sanitation protocols put in place for the COVID-19 pandemic will not be going away by the time the 2020-2021 school year starts for 24,500 Manteca Unified students.
And while Governor Gavin Newsom keeps reminding Californians that school settings will be different due to COVID-19 when students return to campuses it will be up to local districts to determine what “different” is.
Not only does the situation and advice for dealing with the pandemic change virtually daily but whatever a school district ends up implementing must comply with state Department of Education and Centers for Disease guidelines that will end up being in effect when Aug. 6 rolls around.
Given the next school year starts in 77 days and the fact definitive guidelines may not be in place for schools at least for the start of the school year for weeks, the district needs to not just brainstorm all options but prepare several scenarios given you don’t simply put together a comprehensive game plan involving 24,500 students, 2,000 staff members, nearly 40 campuses, transportation, and interacting with parents in just a few days or even weeks.
“All options are being looked at,” District Superintend Clark Burke said. “The top priority will be the health of our students, our staff, and our parents.”
Some of the possibilities such as checking temperatures of all students at the start of the day could prove extremely challenging, according to Burke. Then there are issues such as guidelines that may bar the use of communal drinking fountains, keeping common touch points sanitized in the classrooms and the restrooms, and making hand sanitizer available.
Those are tricky enough. But what may drive the form, manner, and time frame that school takes place in would be social distancing and issues such as trying to skirt times of the year when COVID-19 might be most active and communicable given there are no vaccines on the horizon.
“We could see staggered sessions with separate morning and afternoon sessions to reduce the number of students in a classroom at one time,” Burke noted.
A year wound education model that spreads out students is also being looked at as in a calendar built around the most active time for COVID-19 transmission. If that is determined to be the fall and the spring, in-classroom education could be scheduled in the winter and summer.
Block scheduling at the high schools is seen as a positive element as it compacts a subject in a shorter and more intense period of time. Thanks to the timing of the pandemic’s start, the block scheduling in place at the high schools allowed entire subjects to be taught seamlessly using distance learning to end the current school year.
Burke noted magnet programs at specific schools has been tossed out as one potential approach.
If for some reason the state and CDC determine students can’t safely return to campus Aug. 6 then Manteca Unified needs to be ready to move forward with robust distance learning.
Then there is the possibility of a hybrid model of in-class learning and distance learning to reduce classroom size at any given time. That poses other issues such as students not physically being in a classroom every day yet not having parental supervision at home or other options.
There is also excess capacity in select schools that could figure in a potential scenario that shifts students.
Not only does a school district need to determine the physical location where students will be taught as well as the manner that it is done in, but they also need to adjust bus transportation and food service among others as well as step up cleaning intensity and frequency.
As an example, staggered sessions could end up doubling bus mileage resulting in higher operating and labor costs. And if the district doesn’t go with staggered sessions the issue of volumes that buses can safely handle with COVID-19 could double the number of to and from school trips that would require disinfecting seats in between trips. That would also impact the time students would have to be ready to catch a bus.
The district is far from knowing what direction they will be going.
That means this summer will be much different than normal for MUSD educators.
Not only will the usual summer preparation for the next school year be underway but the entire model on how school is conducted will need to be changed and disinfection protocols implemented for everything from cafeterias and gyms to classrooms, restrooms, lockers, hallways, buses, and play grounds.
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