CDC updates guidance for schools
Governor Gavin Newsom signed an education budget bill Friday, providing a record $123.9 billion to schools. The bill, AB-130, also mandates schools offer independent study options next school year to students whose families are uncomfortable with the return to classrooms.
Also on Friday, the CDC issued new guidance on COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools. It prioritized in-person instruction, giving schools the green light to reopen even if they can’t maintain three feet of distance between students.
Vaccinated students and staff do not have to wear face coverings. Acknowledging the age limitations on vaccination, the CDC suggests layered mitigation strategies to protect unvaccinated individuals.
The state law that required remote learning options last school year expired June 30, leaving the future of high-risk students to districts’ discretion.
Now, public schools must offer independent study to students “whose health would be put at risk by in-person instruction, as determined by the parent or guardian of the pupil.”
Opportunities for remote learning assist high-risk families, especially as children under the age of 12 are not eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. But it presents logistical problems to some districts.
School districts can avoid the proposed requirement by contracting with a county education office or offering an interdistrict transfer agreement.
They must prove the quality of independent study in order to receive state funding for that portion of the student population. Remote learning programs must garner the same attendance rates and achievement as in-person courses.
Districts and charter schools have been planning the format of next school year, even without a concrete idea of state funding.
The News-Press talked to Santa Ynez Valley Charter School Executive Director Dr. John Dewey to hear a charter school’s considerations going into the 2021-2022 school year.
“One of the main issues is uncertainty about what school will continue to ‘look like’ for teachers and administrators,” he told the News-Press.
Guidelines around masking and distance evolve with research, and updated public health policies can make or break school activities.
“We have a general idea that restrictions will be relaxed, but we also lived through a lot of change in 18 months so no one is yet ready to assume it will be a ‘normal’ year. What we do know is that we now have the experience and mentality to pivot if needed,” he said.
Santa Ynez Valley Charter School will likely return to a full, in-person schedule. Dr. Dewey also planned for independent study options prior to the state’s mandate.
Few students at the school opted to stay remote this spring, so he doesn’t expect staffing trouble for this limited group.
The school plans to offer a stipend to individual teachers to oversee a group of independent learners. He has high expectations that they can achieve an experience like being in the classroom.
“All our teachers agree that in-person learning is far-and-away preferable to remote learning,” he said. “Not just because in-person learning is easier to manage overall, but it has a much higher quality as far as social interaction and forming a community of learners.
“We did discover benefits to distance learning as we rolled it out, such as new technologies and learning tools, particularly around programs and apps.”
School staff were creative with technology this past school year, even utilizing green screens to make Zoom classes more engaging.
“Some students adapt to distance learning really well, and it can be beneficial for students who are self-starters, they can move at their own pace and be very productive. There is also flexibility in terms of working from home for staff and students,” Dr. Dewey said.
Younger students who may not yet be organized can be hard to monitor when learning remotely, he said. They might forget to log on at class time, and parents may not realize either.
Dr. Mary Kahn, assistant superintendent of instructional services at Goleta Union School District, answered questions on behalf of the district. She had another perspective on remote learning’s difficulties.
“Stamina to participate and stay engaged through Zoom classes can be challenging, which can affect the full spectrum of learning achieved,” she told the News-Press. “Additionally, distance learning limits the social connectedness that students get to experience with their peers and their teacher.”
The district is still working out a plan for independent learning but hopes most of its students return in-person.
“We are eager to have a return to full time in-person school to support both the academic success and mental wellness for all of our students. Although we recognize that the pandemic means uncertainty, we are hopeful for consistency for our families, students, and staff this coming year,” she said.
The district hired additional teachers in order to limit the number of students in each classroom and personalize instruction. Students will be entering classrooms with varying gaps in their knowledge.