Bakersfield City School District released details about its plan to gradually open up its schools to special education, foster youth and homeless students, and English learners at a board meeting on Tuesday night.
Deputy superintendent Mark Luque shared details with trustees of a plan that would involve bringing back up to 7,500 students and staff on school campuses in four phases that would take place over the next three months. Luque pointed out that number is greater than all but a handful of the enrollment numbers in Kern County districts. The plan is dependent on local health conditions related to COVID-19 and discussions with community stakeholders.
“We want to make sure that we can monitor the effectiveness of the protocol,” Luque said.
BCSD administrators are proposing to bring back students under state guidance that allows school districts to target vulnerable populations for in-person learning. This allows local districts to bring back some of its students, even when COVID-19 cases and test rates put Kern County in the state’s most restrictive “purple tier.”
Parents, teachers, support staff, administrators and often local health officials are consulted in creating a plan for a cohort of no more than 16 adults and students. This cohort model allows districts to bring back seventh and eighth grade students — unlike the waiver model that many local private schools and smaller districts have opted into which only allows K-6 students to return to school.
Bringing back a single cohort of students with their teachers and support staff requires exhaustive planning that involves rethinking the school day. Taking the bus, arriving at school, eating breakfast and going to the bathroom require meticulous planning to avoid cohorts ever crossing paths.
"It's going to take a long process," Luque said, in an interview. "By no means do I think it will be easy."
Trustees' biggest concern they voiced was testing. Luque said he was in the process of arranging for all staff to be tested the week before they return to school in coordination with the districts' wellness center staff. Trustees Lillian Tafoya and Pam Baugher asked if students could be tested for COVID-19 before they return to campus, even if it was optional.
"I think the teachers would feel more comfortable if they were tested as well," Tafoya said. "Since we're not starting out with all of our students, it seems like it might be a reasonable thing to accomplish."
Christine Cornejo, assistant superintendent of Human Resources, said the state had shared no guidance on testing students but told Tafoya the district would look into it.
The board is expected to have a study session on bringing each of these groups back next month. Study sessions are open to the public.
The first phase of bringing students back on campus will target special education students with the highest needs. That includes students who are already in self-contained programs for autism, deaf/hard of hearing, prekindergarten and kindergarten, severely handicapped and the social emotional transition program.
The target date of returning to school will be Oct. 19, and it could involve as many as 1,487 students and staff.
The rollout will be gradual, and seven classrooms at two schools are slated to be the first to open. Luque told trustees that 39 out of the 44 schools in BCSD will have students returning to campus in this phase, which is expected to roll out over eight weeks.
Oct. 19 is also the date that the district plans to begin in-person assessments for students who require special services for their individualized educational plans. This may include bringing back speech therapists, school nurses and school psychologists in for assessment.
HOMELESS AND FOSTER YOUTH
The next phase of students to be brought into campuses will be foster youth and homeless students with a goal of bringing them back by Nov. 2.
These students will continue to be doing distance learning on their Chromebooks, however, they will be in physical classrooms with a more structured environment. As an example, Luque said there may be a classroom where there is a learning pod of fourth through sixth graders doing their distance learning with their headphones in. There would be a roster of staff physically in the classroom to provide academic and emotional support as well as staff continuing to offer the virtual support that is already happening during distance learning.
This phase will include 647 students. Luque said that students could remain at their home schools or they could be bussed to another site to join their pod — though transportation creates its own challenges during COVID-19.
Luque said that the most challenging and final phase will be bringing English learners onto campus for instruction.
The district plans to begin conducting English language assessments for TK, K or students new to California beginning Oct. 5. Administrators aim to bring English learners who need the most help back on campus beginning Jan. 4. This phase will include 1,049 students.
There is no set date for the last phase, but if the first three phases go according to plan, the district can continue bringing more students on in small cohorts who need targeted in-person instruction and meet state requirements. Luque said that each of the previous phases will determine how the next phase will go.