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BCSD school year to begin in distance learning format

Mark Luque

Bakersfield City School District Deputy Superintendent Mark Luque presents the district's Return to School Road Map: COVID-19 Response Plan during Tuesday's board meeting.

Bakersfield City School District students will not return to campus this fall, at least for the first quarter.

The district's formal recommendation to the board of trustees Tuesday was for all BCSD students to begin the 2020-21 academic year in a distance learning format. The board approved the recommendation unanimously.

This schedule will remain in place through the end of the first grading period.

"The distance learning format is the best-case scenario right now," said Superintendent Doc Ervin.

Deputy Superintendent Mark Luque added the recommendation is the most challenging for the district, and there's work to be done to “ensure this version and iteration of virtual learning/distance learning is much more successful than the last iteration.”

Steve Comstock, Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association president, also recommended a 100 percent distance learning model this fall.

"This will be tough and challenging, not every teacher endorses this idea, but there is no 100 percent perfect plan that everyone will support," he wrote. A hybrid learning model would be a “smart next step.”

More than an hour of public comments from parents and teachers showed a range of thoughts regarding how BCSD schools should operate this fall.

Overwhelmingly, comments reflected concerns about reopening due to rising COVID-19 rates and students effectiveness keeping up with mask wearing and social distancing. Parents also wondered how teachers were expected to keep children safe, how grades would work and what would happen if an educator tested positive for COVID-19.

Others felt comfortable sending their children back to school on either a full-time or part-time basis due to social benefits and not being able to teach as effectively as educators.

The decision comes one day after school districts in Los Angeles and San Diego announced fall instruction would be online only.

Luque also presented the BCSD Return to School Road Map: COVID-19 Response Plan to board members, which outlines what schools will look like when it's safe for students to return.

The district put forth two plans: one for a hybrid learning model, and the other for parents to enroll students in a five-day independent study virtual learning program. With the hybrid learning model, one group of students would attend school Monday and Tuesday and engage in virtual learning Wednesday through Friday. A second group would engage in virtual learning Monday through Wednesday and come to campus Thursday and Friday.

In order to limit rotation of classes, staff recommends middle and junior high school students attend the same class period for 2.5 days, then rotate to the next class period. This allows students the opportunity to engage with all teachers within a three-week period, Luque explained. Students would rotate through their entire six-period schedule twice prior to the progress report period, and four times by the end of the first quarter. Students will receive 18 instructional days per period.

Trustee Pam Baugher said this schedule could potentially be challenging.

“If I’m a student and I have my math for 2.5 days and don’t really have it again for two or three weeks, it’s sort of hard on continuity,” she said.

Facial coverings are expected to be worn by students and staff members when they return to campuses.

Daily self-evaluation protocols are recommended for all staff and parents for all students, and daily visual wellness checks, daily temperature checks and a designated isolation room/area to separate students who have or develop COVID-19 symptoms will be offered at school sites.

Staff will continue providing social-emotional learning, and guidance will also be available to staff and families on how to communicate effectively regarding mental health and social-emotional learning concerns.

Luque added every student in the district will receive a Chromebook, and Wi-Fi hot spots will be available to those who need internet connectivity.

Transportation to and from school will be limited to the approximately 1,300 special education students.

Meals will be served in a grab-and-go method.

The district will continue surveying community and staff to gather additional data. The district is also in the process of launching virtual town hall meetings for parents and staff to provide greater detail about return-to-school plans.

Luque said the first town hall meeting for teachers is expected to take place Friday from 9 to 10:45 a.m. for elementary school teachers and 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. for middle and junior high school teachers.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.