MOJAVE -- The sound of school bells will remain silent for the first quarter of the school year as Mojave Unified School District students will continue distance-learning education when classes resume in fall.
The decision was recommended by a task force presentation at the June 23 special meeting, citing continued health and safety concerns and reducing the risk of students from being infected by the 2019 novel coronavirus that forced closures of schools statewide in March.
The district will allow very limited access for exceptional needs students and lessons that require a physical component, such as welding. Students would only be allowed in small groups and then only with social distancing practice and protective gear.
“It became very clear right away that a full open was not a viable option,” said Daniel Sexton, MUSD’s director of curriculum integration and educational partnerships.
Sexton said the task force examined three options, including a full open, a blend of distance-learning and school site learning and a distance-only model.
However, the full open was ruled out; looking at the requirements for a hybrid open came next. Under that model, only 20% of students would be allowed on school sites to maintain at least a six-foot social distancing requirement highly advocated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California Department of Public Health.
MUSD students would rotate through school on different days and teachers would teach different groups each day. High school students would stay in one classroom for their different subjects.
Those elements included needing to maintain at least six feet between students, screening for fevers and other COVID-19 symptoms, maintaining protective personnel equipment for staff and teachers and cleaning school facilities.
School buses would be limited to only a handful of students in order to maintain the social distancing requirement. Drop-offs and pick-ups would be completely overhauled and controlled.
Gone would be large-scale mealtimes in cafeterias and recess, both of which would likely be contained to classroom settings. Restroom breaks would be scheduled and staff would enforce hand washing and proper hygiene.
The biggest obstacle to even a hybrid solution remains: what to do if a teacher or student contracted COVID-19. The school would then have to close down. Keeping transitional kindergarten students safe from infection was also a hurdle, as they would be unlikely to properly use protective equipment or follow health guidelines.
And there was the problematic concern of how to get a student who might have a fever safely and reliably home without potential exposure, or whether to send home.
The task force decision eventually ruled that the distance-learning model proved more effective, and outweighs the socio-educational benefits of a hybrid re-open, especially when obstacles and risks are considered for the latter.
MUSD will overhaul its distance learning approach that it provided at the end of the last school year, as COVID-19 was beginning an intense spread through Kern County and California as a whole.
Sexton said that problems encountered at the end of the last school year, such as wifi access, have been addressed. Programs will be more detailed and focused, and will be a part of the summer staff professional development.
“We are really looking full instruction,” he said. Schoolwork would be submitted online with district-based grading in place and teachers and students would interact online.
Despite educational goals, Sexton stressed the outlook on extracurricular activities such as dances don’t look promising for the near future due to all the state guidelines on COVID-19.
Sexton said the task group also conducted a survey among parents. Data was also gathered from district employees, including teachers, principals, ESL staff and counselors.
“We attempted to get as broad input as possible so we could really make an informed recommendation,” Sexton said.
The survey showed 41% of those who responded would not send their children back to school in the fall because of the COVID-19 concerns.
Data was also included from district employees, including teachers, principals, ESL staff and counselors.
Another 53% said they would not send their child back to school if a teacher or another student caught COVID-19.
Eighty-five percent of respondents said they could provide supervision if their students were at home. Comments from the survey also indicated that until a vaccine or treatment was successfully developed, they would not send children back to campus.