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Some contend Manteca Unified employing ‘blackmail’ to get kids back into classrooms
football covid
Texas high school football players take a break during strength and conditioning workouts in July.

There is no place between a rock and a hard place when it comes to Manteca Unified in terms of what their top priority is these days.

They make no apologies that their absolute No. 1 concern is striving to make sure each student gets the robust education they need while keeping them safe at the same time.

It is why a decision to not allow students that continue with distance learning to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports, band, and school dances is a no brainer from their perspective.

There are a few parents that will disagree.

Several have expressed their dismay in e-mails asserting the school district is essentially participating in “blackmail” to “force” kids back into the classroom.

They point to the district allowing students who opt for the Manteca Unified Online Academy or independent study to still play sports or participate in activities connected with their home school.

On the surface it seems like a two-face position. Distance learning, after all, is just another term for an online academy — or is it.

Before we delve into online learning versus distance learning further, let’s address a rather peculiar position. Parents obviously don’t want to send their sons and daughters back into the classroom for either existing health reasons or because they are concerned they will be more susceptible to catching COVID-19.

It is a reasonable concern.

And it is — to a point. Most sports involve a lot of contact or the need to be in close proximity to others to compete.

The district’s carefully crafted return to in-person learning is based on creating manageable — and traceable — cohorts which is the bureaucratic term these days for small groups.

On the transitional kindergarten to eighth grade level the cohorts are around 15 or so students that are kept isolated from other cohorts as much as possible throughout the school day when they are on campus.

The high school level is different. Due to the need to change subjects based on an individual student’s class choices, high school students are the part of four cohorts. That of course increases their exposure beyond simply staying at home distance learning.

But if exposure is the driving concern to stay with distance learning, why would you want to then place your child in a cohort consisting of 15 basketball players or 40 football players? At the high school level a 40-member football team could touch as many as 160 different cohorts assuming each player managed to have a schedule of four classes that didn’t duplicate that of their teammates. That is on top of cohorts as defined by individual households and whatever people a student comes across for a specific period of time away from school.

It is true students in-person learning have four cohorts more than the distance learning students that have none. But if your concern is exposing your child to other cohorts, why would you risk having them play sports where they could have 15 other teammates that ultimately are part of as many of 60 other cohorts in a school setting?

To give that a bit of perspective you steadfast say no to your teen being part of four school-related cohorts but you have no issue putting them on a sports team with 15 other students exposed to up to a potential combination of 60 distinct school-related cohorts.

And while classes are conducted indoors where potential COVID-19 transmission is a bigger concern, the level of contact doesn’t approach anywhere near the level it does on a sports team. Toss in the fact social distancing and other protocols can be — and are — more robust in a classroom, and it would seem the parental concern is not disingenuous as much as it fails to see the exposure level.

Making this concern of possible discrimination as a ploy to force students back into physical classrooms a moot point is a little detail that the earliest sports — and by extension other extra-curricular activities — will be underway is January.

That happens to be when the next semester starts at the high school level.

Yes, it is true conditioning in a group setting would start in December if sports do indeed start in January.

But it is also true 100 percent distance learning per se will be off the table for high school students starting in January unless a school campus — or specific classes — experience COVID-19 cases beyond a specific threshold over a sustained period of time. At that point, distance learning will return.

Distance learning as an alternative is being taken off the table for solid educational reasons that go beyond it not being as effective as in-person learning.

On the TK through 8th grade level teachers are seeing all of their students each day split between AM and PM sessions. High school teachers have four days week of in-person classes with everyone distance learning on Wednesday.

Picture yourself as a teacher trying to teach an in-person class and distance learners at the same time. Toss in prep time and a host of other things a teacher has to struggle with and allowing students to stay on distance learning as of now exists as an ongoing option is a bad call.

The reason why TK thru 8th graders were never given the option of staying on distance learning when on-campus instruction resumes this month has everything to do with the fact the current learning term ends on Friday.

That is why elementary students have three options — in person learning, Manteca Unified Online Academy, or independent study.

Forcing high school students with about a month to go on their current block classes to not be able to stay on distance learning until the end of the semester and switch to the online academy or independent study if they don’t want to return to the classroom would not only be disruptive by changing learning models as they head into the home stretch but it also can jeopardize credits.

Given that in person learners, those enrolled in the online academy or pursing independent study all will have the option to be a part of sports and other extracurricular activities at their home school gives everyone three valid options. Their choice can be based on health concerns or preference for learning models. Whichever is the case they can still participate in sports or whatever extracurricular activities may take place.

It is also likely arrangements can be made for coaches to provide those high school students staying on distance learning until the end of December with a “distance conditioning” program away from the team they could join in January by exercising any of three learning options.

Once you peel back subjective issues, the way Manteca Unified has opted to go forward is a balanced and fair approach that doesn’t burden teachers with the need to teach at the same time in the virtual and real worlds.

And for conspiracy theorists that believe Manteca Unified is motivated by a desire to maximum dollars from the state, there is no mandate at the moment for schools receiving state funding based on them teaching students in person.

If anything it would be easier and less expensive to keep on distance learning as long as possible.

But in doing so, students would suffer proportionately highly levels of learning loss they may never make up.

Stoning the district for making a solid education decision that also provides maximum assurances of guarding student health in the era of COVID-19 makes about a much sense of not wanting your student exposed to four classroom cohorts but have no problem with them playing tackle football with 30 or so teammates against eight other schools with 30 or so players in each team.