For many Clovis Unified students, the new school year will mean returning to classrooms that were suddenly vacated in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The question for trustees at Wednesday night’s meeting was whether students would be in class on campus for two days each week or all five.
The board considered two choices proposed by a 100-member task force. In option A, students would attend class on campus for the entire week, while option B presented a hybrid schedule of two days on campus and three days of remote learning.
Full-Time Return to Classroom Approved
Trustees approved Option A — a full-time return to school for students starting August 17.
The decision still allows parents to opt out of classroom instruction altogether and enroll their children in fully online instruction. A teaching plan for students with special needs will be developed by district administration.
Students and staff will be required to wear masks at school, and the district will encourage social distancing as much as is feasible. But district officials made it clear that the protocols and procedures that will be in place will mitigate, but not eliminate, the risk of catching the highly contagious virus.
Parents Said Educational Needs Outweigh COVID Risk
It was clear early on in the meeting that the trustees were in concert with many of the parents who commented during the meeting that they want their children to return to school. The risks of a COVID-19 infection, many said, are outweighed by the risks to children of social isolation and gaps in their education.
Although only a dozen or so people appeared in person or phoned in to comment, the level of interest was obvious by the nearly 4,000 people who watched the meeting on YouTube to learn whether Clovis Unified students would be returning to their schools next month.
Matt Dildine, CEO of the Fresno Rescue Mission, cautioned the trustees against only offering online learning to students, which he said creates a hardship for those who are homeless or lack internet access and who wouldn’t have the same educational opportunities as their peers.
Live Instruction Sought for Online Students
The issue that caused the most dissension among board members was when trustee Susan Hatmaker attempted to commit the district to providing live instruction to students whose parents choose online instruction.
The district plans to use a curriculum designed by district educators for primary students and Edgenuity for secondary students. The district had turned to Edgenuity for secondary students when the district turned to distance learning in mid-March.
Hatmaker said that parents who want Edgenuity can enroll their kids in the Clovis Online School, but the children enrolled in online instruction deserve the live instruction and access to teachers that their peers who attend class at a school site will receive.
Based on prior parent surveys by Clovis Unified, at least 30% of the parents indicated they would enroll their children online this fall to protect them from infection. And with the rising rates of coronavirus infection now being reported by Fresno County health officials, even more parents could choose online instruction, she said.
“We want kids to receive the best education possible,” Hatmaker said.
District Needs Flexibility
But other trustees said they were concerned that requiring live instruction for the online students would reduce the district’s flexibility to provide educational services.
Hatmaker’s proposed amendment lost on a 2-5 vote; she and trustee Tiffany Stoker Madsen voted in favor.
The board’s vote comes just two days after area school superintendents and Fresno County Public Health officers gathered in an online meeting organized by Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino to talk about school reopening plans in light of the growing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the county.
That meeting prompted several Fresno County school districts to opt for distance learning when school resumes next month.
Governor to Make Announcement
On Thursday, ABC7 News in San Francisco reported that Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected Friday to provide guidance on whether school campuses should reopen to students for the new school year.
Clovis Unified Trustee Steven Fogg said Thursday that he hopes the governor will not negate the trustees’ decision to open schools to students who want to attend in-person classes.
Unlike the other area districts that have already decided to start the school year with online only, Clovis Unified’s goal was to give parents a choice about how and where to educate their children, he said.
If the governor does order schools not to reopen to in-person classes, Fogg said, “I’ll weep for our children. But what can we do? We have to follow the law.”