Schools remained shuttered in local communities with no clear picture of when, or if, classes will resume this year.
As of Monday, the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District and Our Lady of Miracles Catholic School in Gustine had each extended their COVID-19 closures.
Officials at Gustine Unified were making contingency plans as well in the event that the district does not re-open as scheduled on April 20.
Our Lady of Miracles School was initially scheduled to re-open earlier this week. But Principal Chandra Brace said that the closure now has been extended until further notice. She said distance learning, through use of technology and virtual instruction, is continuing.
“Teachers all set up a schedule of sessions to to keep instruction going,” Brace explained. “It is not an ideal situation, but it is the best we can do right now.”
The Newman-Crows Landing District, as well as others in Stanislaus County, announced Thursday that that Monday, May 4, is the earliest date that schools will re-open. County schools had initially planned to welcome students and staff back to class Monday, April 20.
“Everything you read from the CDC said four to eight weeks, and I think we were on the short side of that (with a scheduled April 20 re-opening),” said Randy Fillpot, superintendent of the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District. “I wasn’t surprised (at the extension) when I started hearing that Bay Area counties extended through May 1. It was just a matter of time.”
Fillpot said the district will simply extend - and continue to fine-tune - the distance learning protocols in place during the closure.
“We are still kind of fixing a few things that we are finding,” he commented.
Meal service and school maintenance are continuing, and while the Newman-Crows Landing district office on Main Street is closed to the public typically two or three staff members are physically present. The remainder are working remotely and coming in as needed, Fillpot noted.
“Somebody has to be in the district office or we wouldn’t be able to get payroll out or pay our bills,” he explained.
Neighboring Gustine Unified is making contingency plans in the event that its closure extends past April 20, said Dr. Bryan Ballenger, superintendent.
Ballenger said Thursday that county superintendents have been conferring regularly to establish criteria which must be met before schools re-open.
“It is sounding like it may be a stretch to (re-open) by April 20,” Ballenger acknowledged. “We are establishing the criteria that must be met and we will put that out to our families, so that they know that when they do come back they are coming back into a safe situation.”
Gustine Unified will shift gears academically if the closure is extended, he added.
The district initially assigned work to students which was geared toward reinforcement of existing material rather than new learning.
If schools remain closed past April 20, Ballenger said, the district plans to implement a distance learning program to resume new instruction. The district has 1:1 technology available to its students, but devices are not issued for take-home use.
That could change, Ballenger indicated, as the district is looking into issuing Chromebooks to students in grades 3-12 so they can participate in virtual lessons with their teachers. Younger students would adopt an independent study format and work with parents on academic materials.
“One of the biggest challenges if we do hand out devices to grades 3-12 is to find a way to get them connected. We have about 600 families who do not have stable internet service,” Ballenger said. “We’re digging in and trying to get these problems solved.”
While a “hard close” is in effect at district schools, Ballenger said, Gustine’s district office and surrounding portable buildings are being staffed with more than two dozen employees whose positions are deemed essential. Those employees range from administrators and school secretaries to the district’s counseling team.
“There are 28 of us right now working out of the district office,” said Ballenger, adding that the complex of buildings offers sufficient space for employees to practice social distancing protocols.
Each superintendent said they are hopeful that schools are able to re-open this year. Neither, though, said they envision extending the school year into the scheduled summer break.
“If we can get back for any amount of time that would be great. We have seniors and eighth-graders who we want to celebrate,” Ballenger said.
Even if schools remain closed, the superintendents said, they will try to find a way to honor their graduating seniors.
“We definitely want to do something to celebrate all of the achievements of our graduates,” Fillpot affirmed.
“We are talking about how we give our seniors the send-off they deserve,” Ballenger commented. “They worked hard for that.”