Riverside County in red tier; in-class teaching unlikely before January
Alex Jackson is an English teacher at Indio High School. He is using virtual learning as an opportunity to connect with his students.
Palm Springs Desert Sun
Riverside County may have upgraded its reopening status this week as numbers improve from the COVID-19 pandemic, but that doesn’t mean students in the Palm Springs Unified School District will be returning to classrooms before the end of the calendar year.
At Tuesday’s PSUSD board meeting, Superintendent Sandra Lyon told the board that even with the shift to the red tier by the county Tuesday, indicating declining rates of new cases and positivity for testing, the county must stay in that tier for two weeks before schools can consider reopening. That means the earliest the subject could come up is at the Oct. 6 board meeting
While there is no specific date for a return to classrooms yet or even details on what a hybrid learning model would look like, the board gave the green light to implementing a timeline that will have the district ready for in-class learning in January if the COVID-19 numbers remain steady or improve. But even with the county shifting to the state’s red tier from the more restrictive purple tier, board members said they want to focus on health and safety over a quicker return to classrooms.
More: California coronavirus: Riverside County numbers and latest maps
More: Riverside County moving to red tier. Nail salons, churches, indoor dining can reopen
“What is the direction? What is the board’s objective?” board member Timothy Wood asked. “My assumption is that we all have kind of a common understanding that without a vaccine or anything like that, starting to reopen schools or anything else, we are asking for the infection rate to start going back up again. As we start getting people back together, that’s what is going to happen.”
Plan needed for return of students
Board member Karen Cornett said the district needs to have plans in place in order to eventually bring kids back.
“Just because we are saying we are going to do that after January, all of that depends on where we will be in January,” Cornett said. “So I think it is a slow move, going October, November, December, planning, planning, planning. If we are able to do it in January, we are ready to go. If not, certainly we are not going to do it.”
The board heard a timeline that included seeing details of a hybrid learning model for district schools sometime in October, assuming the county doesn’t revert to the restrictive purple tier.
Lyon said that if the county stays at the red tier or improved to a less-restrictive tier, the district will put all the pieces into place for hybrid learning sometime between the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, meaning some in-class learning could begin in January. Those pieces would include county and state mandates for things such as social distancing and limits on classroom capacity.
Landau Elementary School first-grade teacher Missy Costello gives live instruction during Palm Springs Unified School Districts’ first day of distance learning in Cathedral City, Calif., on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. (Photo: Taya Gray/The Desert Sun)
“We all agree this is a very thoughtful plan. We all understand that we do need to start planning to go back on campus, there is no question about that,’ said board president John Gerardi. “But we have to be agile as things change. You know in this current time, things can change on a dime, so we have to be very agile. We need to start planning to go back to school. A hybrid is the safest way to start going back.”
Board member Madonna Gerrell said the timeline and the idea of January in-class learning feels rushed.
“It seems like Oct. 6 is just around the corner, and then four to six weeks after that, that comes very fast, and before you know it, we are back from break and not knowing what the future holds in those winter months,” Gerrell said. “It is making me think that maybe we might have to slow down to be able to make sure we keep everyone save. We have good intentions. We have great plans. We have great people. However, we might have to think about how things are going as we get along in the winter months.”
How are other districts doing?
Trying to get accurate information about how other schools districts in California and across the country have responded to returning to classrooms should also be a priority, board member Richard Clapp said.
“My wife and I have had the opportunity to travel lately, and as we go through different states, we see soccer games in action, football games on Friday night,” Clapp said. “So there is a wide variety of what is going on. So it seems like we ought to be able to get some really accurate information on what going back to school has resulted in or how it was done.”
But as county restrictions begin to ease, the reality of students, teachers and staff returning to class needs to be addressed, the board said.
“I do think we need to start looking at how are we going to start bringing our kids back and what does that hybrid plan look like and what do our schools need to look like if we are going to bring kids back,” Cornett said.
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or [email protected] Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at [email protected]_Bohannan. Support local journalism: Subscribe to the Desert Sun.
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