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Manteca Unified strives to balance health conerns with education needs
cowell art
A student in a first grade class at Joshua Cowell School proudly shows off his holiday craft project.

Aggressive steps Manteca Unified has been using to keep staff and students healthy  as well as to maximize learning opportunities during the current COVID-19 surge was creating a strain.

Compounding the problem was a change in mid-stream by the California Health Department that tossed out the precision tracing the district had employed since returning students to school that was based on distance and length of exposure to potential carriers of the coronavirus.

New “guidance” — the term the state has been using when they really mean “mandatory” — now requires  all students and staff that were in a classroom with someone who tested positive to be quarantined regardless of length of time even if was fleeting at most or even if they were never even close to being within six feet — to be quarantined. The state added the proviso that it had to go back two days.

That set the stage for the decision by the Manteca Unified school board — in collaboration with the district administration and teachers — to switch back to distance learning until Jan. 11. The timing with the semester ending for high school next Friday after finals was considered ideal to allow the current COVID-19 surge going through the community to  play out as well as relook at how protocols can be modified.

The decision was based on two key points the board has established. Safety of staff and students is the top priority and not losing sight of the district’s job of providing  students the education they need.

In other words, the goal is to strike a balance to minimize health risks and minimize learning loss.

“We are trying to make the shallowest hole to come out of with learning loss,” Superintendent Clark Burke said Thursday.

The signs are not good.

There is a significant surge in “D” and “F” grades even among those described to normally be good students. It is clear to teachers that there are students on distance learning easily distracted and who have been playing video games instead of paying attention in the virtual classroom.

There has been an increase in the number of other classes that teachers were covering during their prep period. Burke noted that is what teachers would do before the pandemic but not to the degree it has been occurring in recent weeks.

At the same time a shortage of substitutes triggered by the new guidance was getting to the point that it could become a significant problem.

Burke said classes have been taught by teachers when they’ve been required to quarantine at home due to possible exposure and who haven’t become ill. That created a situation where students were in the classroom while their instructor was teaching remotely.

That required pulling in campus monitors and other support staff to be physically in classrooms to watch students while they were taught remotely by their teacher.

Burke stressed that credentialed teachers or administrators have been teaching classes. He added that while support staff that runs the gamut from instructional aides to campus monitors have provided physical presence in the classrooms while a teacher instructs remotely, campus security has not been compromised.

In additional school resource officers are at all high school campuses.

The state decision that forced the district to jettison precision tracing that religiously follows the Centers for Disease Control recommendations set the stage for major problems to develop.

Now if there is a positive case in an AM session in the transitional kindergarten through sixth grade, it would force all AM class students to quarantine even if they never had contact within six feet of someone who tested positive as well as the teacher plus the PM session the teacher instructs.

At the high school level even with block schedule with only four periods a day, the fact students are in different classes with different students would mean at least four teachers and hundreds of students — even if the district could substantiate there was no interaction that triggered quarantining under CDC protocols — would have to be quarantined. And  given that there is now a two day period impacted all of the classes the teachers taught the prior day — basically the other half of their students — would have to quarantine as well.

The timeout from in-person instruction for most students —  those in danger of falling significantly  behind are being allowed on campus in small group to receive help in-person from a teacher — is minimal.

Due to finals, next week only had one in-person instruction day that was dropped for 7rth through 12th graders.

At the TK through 6th level, five days of in-person learning were lost.

All students will distance learn Jan. 8 and 9 when they return from winter break.

As things stand now, Burke said students will resume the hybrid learning approach that was in place up until Friday. Burke noted the situation is constantly being monitored  and re-assessed . That means if conditions warrant it, remote learning may extend beyond Jan. 8. District personnel are now exploring various options to adhere to the new state guidelines in a manner that reduces the potential for significant quarantining.

“The district is proud of teachers, staff and administrators who continue to demonstrate their commitment and dedication to students,” Burke said.

Burke noted teachers continue to go above and beyond to find ways to teach students in t trying conditions.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email