Back-to-school season is always a time of excitement and uncertainty about the year ahead. But the coronavirus pandemic has led to new challenges and questions about how to continue education while school campuses across California are closed.
On Wednesday, more than 300 guests tuned in to a virtual town hall where EdSource reporters answered readers’ questions about what school will look like this fall, from what happens if a student tests positive for the virus, to campus housing for college students, to teacher preparedness for the year ahead.
Viewers submitted more than 200 questions beforehand and EdSource will be publishing a back-to-school FAQ document in the coming days answering questions not addressed in the live discussion.
“Across California students are already starting school — but back to school looks very different this year. Most districts are resuming with distance learning, though a few have been planning to bring at least some students back in person,” said Louis Freedberg, executive director of EdSource.
This year, nearly 97% of California’s 6 million students will start the school year off with distance learning. One common question that readers asked is why some districts are offering child care on their campuses when school buildings must be closed?
According to EdSource early education reporter Zaidee Stavely, some schools are offering child care because there will be fewer students than there would be with a fully open campus. While there are risks with bringing any number of children back on campus, schools can more easily social distance if they are only bringing back a small handful of children rather than implementing a full in-person or hybrid schedule.
“School districts are trying to help parents who have to go back to work or really need supervision who don’t have any help at all,” Stavely said.
On campus or online, California students and teachers face many uncertainties ahead as it relates to instruction. Maryam Qudrat from Los Angeles asked if core academic subjects will be given more instructional minutes than electives.
California passed Senate Bill 98 this summer, adjusting the minimum instructional time for students during the school day. The required time is 3 hours per day for kindergartners, 3 hours, 50 minutes for grades 1 to 3 and 4 hours for grades 4 to 12.
While there are no set requirements for specific subjects established in SB 98, many districts are using block scheduling at the middle and high school levels, which provides the same allocation of minutes across core subjects and electives, similar to the traditional school day.
Once schools do eventually reopen for in-person instruction, they will have to closely monitor for symptoms and potential outbreaks. If a student or staff member tests positive for Covid-19, they must immediately isolate on campus until they can go home, said reporter Diana Lambert.
The school would then need to notify all staff and families, and they must disinfect the entire campus. The person who tested positive can’t return for 10 days, and anyone who has had contact with the infected person must quarantine for 14 days.
Students enrolled in California’s public colleges and universities will largely be taking all classes online this fall. Some campuses will offer in-person instruction if needed, such as for applied health courses, said reporter Ashley A. Smith.
To help engage with families who don’t speak English, Stavely pointed out examples where districts are building parent networks to build trust and relationships in their communities, like a program in Oxnard that recruits parents who are already engaged with their child’s school and connects them with other parents who might be struggling.
“Parents have a real trust with other parents,” Stavely said. “Districts can really use this to engage and reach out to parents that might work better” than district or school officials trying to contact them.
One common question from attendees was what high school juniors and seniors should do to prepare for and apply to college during the coronavirus pandemic?
One important tip is to check whether students are fulfilling A-G courses required for entrance to California’s public universities, said EdSource higher education reporter Larry Gordon, especially since students may have less contact with school counselors who can help them navigate those requirements.
But the simplest thing to do, Gordon said, “is to not treat this school year as a vacation. Take it seriously. Whether it’s online or in person it’s going to count.”
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