Fresno Unified School District students will have daily live instruction with their teachers when they start the school year with online learning on Aug. 17 — and for all students, from transitional kindergarten through high school, the school day starts at 9 a.m.
Their teachers will instruct either from home or from the classrooms where they and the students will reunite once the COVID-19 crisis has eased.
Unlike the distance learning that went into effect in mid-March when schools first closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, attendance will be mandatory, and classwork will be graded.
But some details — such as how classes like art or ROTC will be taught online, or whether students will be issued textbooks — have yet to be announced.
Online Schools a State Mandate
The district late Friday unveiled the initial version of its strategic plan for the new school year that outlines how the district will present distance learning, plus nutrition, supports for special needs, foster, and homeless students, and technology support, and also what school will look like once the current COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
Schools in Fresno County have to remain closed so long as the county remains on the state’s COVID-19 watchlist, which monitors counties with high rates of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. Districts may seek a waiver for elementary schools from the county Public Health Department but must provide a reopening plan showing the protocols and procedures that will be in place to keep students and staff as safe as possible.
Fresno Unified also posted draft daily class schedules for kindergarten, elementary, and middle and high school students, with periods of live class instruction and individualized live instruction.
Town Hall Meeting Scheduled
The plan will be the topic of a virtual town hall meeting that will start at 6 p.m. Thursday. It will be broadcast on the district’s website with audio available in Spanish and Hmong.
If you want to provide input or comments, you’ll need to submit them by 4 p.m. Tuesday, either by using the district’s survey or by leaving a voicemail at (559) 457-6222.
— Fresno Unified (@fresnounified) July 31, 2020
Plan Changes Are Possible
The plan is subject to revision based on continuing negotiations and also input from parents and the community, district spokeswoman Nikki Henry told GV Wire℠ on Friday.
“As the plan is a living document we will consider questions and suggestions in revision of the plan,” Henry said.
Trustee Terry Slatic questions why the plan does not include requiring teachers to work from their classroom instead of allowing them to work from home, as they did last spring. Having teachers on-site gives them access to principals, vice-principals, and teachers’ coaches when they need assistance, and also increases accountability, he said.
The Fresno Teachers Association says on its Facebook page that the district and union agreed on allowing teachers to have the option of where they would work, home or school, and criticized the Selma and Sanger districts for their “lack of respect” toward teachers in mandating they work at the schools while teaching online.
Newsom: Don’t Force Teachers Back to School
The issue arose during Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 update on Monday when he was asked whether teachers should be forced back into the classroom instead of letting them have the option of working from home.
Newsom noted that those decisions are up to the local education agencies in conjunction with their labor partners.
“I don’t believe anyone should be forced to put their life and health at risk, period, full stop,” Newsom said during his noontime Q&A with reporters. “If people feel their lives are being put at risk, and their health is being put at risk, it is incumbent on us to call that out.”
The Fresno Unified plan is similar in many respects to the district plan that was issued in June, when district officials still believed schools might reopen in August.
But there are some additions, including that the district has signed up to use Gaggle, an online system for monitoring student communications for language indicating bullying or harassment, inappropriate sexual content, or evidence of potential self-harm.
Social-Emotional Needs Are A Priority
Students’ social-emotional needs have increased tremendously since the advent of distance learning, with much uncertainty and anxiety creating an additional hurdle to learning. Fresno Unified has designed its draft schedules for students with built-in time for whole-class sessions as well as individual meetings with school staff to address the issues.
The total of live instruction minutes for each age group meets or exceeds the minimums set by the state for the 2020-21 school year — three hours for kindergartners, three hours and 50 minutes for students in grades 1-3, and four hours for grade four through high school.
But for elementary students, that includes 15 to 20 minutes each morning for “classroom connection and wellness.”
For preschoolers through third-graders, their school day could get a jump start with 15-minute mini-classes broadcast each morning on Valley PBS Channel 18.
District spokeswoman Amy Idsvoog said Monday that the district is working with its labor partners to sort out some remaining, unspecified issues. The strategic plan, as written now, will continue to evolve even as the COVID-19 conditions change and evolve, she said.
Fresno Unified’s town hall meeting comes only 11 days before the first day of classes on Aug. 17. Henry said that Fresno Unified still intends to start school that day, even though the teachers union has sought a later start to give teachers, other staff, parents, and students more time to become familiar with the reopening plan.
Schools will be responsible for distributing supplies and materials that students will need for their virtual classes, and will use proper social distancing when handing them out, Idsvoog said.
Clovis, Central Plans Include Class Schedules
Clovis and Central unified school districts released their plans earlier in July, giving parents a look at what online school will look like.
Clovis Unified’s online learning plan, which was discussed at a virtual town hall meeting two weeks ago, shows that class schedules for elementary and second students will be similar to the class periods and blocks that they will attend once schools reopen.
Central Unified’s schedules, which trustees reviewed at Tuesday’s board meeting, include scheduled class periods and blocks but also time for counseling at the beginning and end of the school day and office hours for teachers in the afternoons. Central Unified elementary students will start each Monday with a one-hour class meeting.