As local districts eye August as the start of the next academic year, one thing is certain: Schools will likely look much different for Kern County students.
Which scenarios schools ultimately go with — such as staggering student arrivals, limiting students per classroom, ensuring social distancing or sticking to virtual learning — will be decided by local districts, however.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced Wednesday some details on what next school year could include, but stressed “there’s no one size fits all” when it comes to reopening.
“We expect that students and staff will be wearing face coverings in school,” he said.
Smaller class sizes and having fewer students on each bus would allow for social distancing, and temperature checks will take place.
Some students will get instruction through distance learning, he added, which will help with social distance as much as possible.
“The more distance learning we are doing, that means we can have fewer students on campus and that means we can have smaller class sizes, which is going to be important,” Thurmond said.
To reduce the digital divide — Thurmond estimated about 600,000 students are without a device — he asked for help from California businesses, foundations and individuals.
Locally, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools said a school reopening task force has been meeting for the past several weeks, made up of educational partners from districts small and large throughout the county. The group’s charge is to research best practices and provide a document with guidance for school districts to consider as plans are made to safely and efficiently reopen school campuses for the 2020-21 academic year.
“It will ultimately be up to each individual school district to decide what their individual opening plans will look like for the 2020-21 school year,” said Rob Meszaros, communications director. “Those exact plans likely will not be made until sometime later in the summer.”
Several districts are looking at a tentative school start date of Aug. 12 or 17, while others are scheduled to reopen in late July or early August. The dates were set prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Meszaros said.
What school will look like in each district when classes resume remains undecided.
The Bakersfield City School District outlined possible scenarios for students and staff this fall during its Tuesday Board of Trustees meeting.
Deputy Superintendent Mark Luque said that could include: all students returning to campuses; 50 percent of students coming to school Monday and Tuesday, closing schools Wednesday for cleaning and bringing the other half of students in Thursday and Friday, allowing for a blend of in-person and online instruction; 25 percent of students coming to school Monday, another 25 percent Tuesday and so on through Thursday. Friday would be reserved for teacher preparation and operational items, or mainly virtual learning.
“All of those scenarios present significant challenges,” Luque said.
Luque said a more detailed report will be provided for trustees at the next board meeting in June. Officials will work toward having a formal recommendation presented in July, giving school sites at least a month to plan for fall.
Whatever is decided, Luque anticipates there will be changes up until school begins. The first day is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 12.
McFarland Unified School District Superintendent Aaron Resendez said the district is considering similar scenarios as BCSD, while also trying to find balance between meeting daily instructional needs of students and practical needs of families.
“We want to be sensitive to guidelines, considering all of the health and safety items that are included in CDC directions, but we’re also trying to balance that with the practical part of this,” Resendez said. “There are real-world factors like childcare, daily meals and access to direct instruction.”
Some scenarios the district considered include alternating schedules to allow for a certain number of students on campus at a given time, keeping class sizes small and, if necessary, continuing virtual learning.
The Kern High School District, also eyeing an Aug. 12 start date, is working with the county on guidelines. No information is currently available, but public information officer Erin Briscoe said classrooms will have hand sanitizing stations in place and personal protective equipment will be available.