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Fresno Unified students won’t be coming back to their classrooms next semester until the county’s coronavirus infection rates drop to a moderate level that puts the county into the state’s designated “orange” tier, district officials announced Thursday.

Portrait of Bob Nelson

“We will always take the moderate path. We will not be the first one back, nor will we be the last. And we will make sure everybody is safe as we do it.” — Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson

That’s despite Fresno Unified getting waivers in mid-October from the state Department of Public Health that allows its elementary schools to remain open for instruction even if the county is in the most restrictive “purple” tier, as it is now, on the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.”

But other than small groups of high-risk and special needs students, Fresno Unified classrooms have remained closed to instruction.

District Emphasizes Safety Goal

Fresno Unified’s plan, which was created with input from district administrators and its teachers’ union, will provide the greatest safety for students, staff, and the community, Superintendent Bob Nelson told reporters.

“We will always take the moderate path. We will not be the first one back, nor will we be the last,” he said. “And we will make sure everybody is safe as we do it.”

Under the reopening plan, students would remain on distance learning for the entire third quarter — through March 19 — if the county has not yet moved into the orange tier by Feb. 23.

Student Return Will Be Phased

Once the county reaches the orange tier, students will return in phases, starting with transitional kindergarten through first-grade students, Nelson said.

To keep class sizes small so students can be adequately distanced, students will need to return on a hybrid schedule that has yet to be determined.

The district, which is announcing its plans to the community at a town hall meeting scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Thursday, will be surveying parents to learn whether they would send their kids to school for in-person instruction or continue to keep them home, and what kind of schedule they would prefer for in-person instruction.

Parents can watch the town hall meeting at tinyurl.com/FUSDCommunityTownHallUstream at go.fresnounified.org/ustream, or Facebook at www.facebook.com/fresnounifiedpage.

Simultaneous Teaching On Tap

No matter whether students are online or in-person, they can expect to keep their instructors who will be doing simultaneous teaching, Nelson said.

That mode of instruction is already being piloted in some Clovis Unified schools and used in other districts around the country.

Nelson said he expects some Fresno teachers will be piloting that after the holiday break.

To maintain adequate distancing among middle and high school students, who typically move from classroom to classroom for their classes, schools will be limited to 25% capacity once they can reopen.

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