As coronavirus cases rise in the region, Pasadena Unified School District continues planning for what the new school year will look like during a pandemic.
“I hope that we can come to some way to open,” said Vice President Scott Phelps about the fall.
“I hope that the conditions aren’t too severe [and] the requirements aren’t too high to open… I think a lot of families are missing out, a lot of families don’t have parents that can help [their children]. Then there’s the social [and] emotional problem of not having that connection with your teacher which is a big part of a young children’s lives.”
PUSD decided in late June to implement a hybrid system of schooling utilizing both in-person and distance learning for when schools reopen on August 17. The current plan calls for students in primary and secondary schools to have an alternating schedule, which would fill many schools at about 50% capacity. The preparations and alterations to the schedule would help facilitate the social-distancing protocols.
Examples shown at the PUSD Board of Education meeting on June 25 reveal each group meeting in person twice a week and distance learning three days a week. On Mondays, both groups would engage in distance learning, allowing schools to meet with staff and prepare for the upcoming week.
In addition to the social distance protocol, students, faculty and staff will be required to wear face coverings. PUSD has also stated it is procuring personal protective equipment including cleaning supplies to mitigate the risk of community transmission within the schools’ campuses.
Prior to entering campus students, faculty and staff will be screened for any symptoms of COVID-19, which include a temperature check. PUSD also states that the custodial staff was trained according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and all facilities will undergo “high-frequency cleaning and sanitizing.”
According to the plan shown at the meeting, in-person instruction would start at 7:50 a.m. for elementary and middle schools while high schools would begin at 8:30 a.m. All three levels of education will be dismissed from school at around noon and then start distance learning until 2:30 p.m.
When presented to the board, some members such as Phelps asked for four days of in-person learning to help students develop a rapport with teachers and fellow peers.
“We’ve got a number of comments from families where there are two working parents. It’s one reason why we wanted four days [of in-person instruction],” said Phelps. “The second reason is that with lots of families there just isn’t any ability to help their children [with school].”
After hearing the recommendations from the board, Director of Curriculum Helen Chan Hill and her staff decided to extend in-person instruction to a full school day rather than a half day.
“We still want to make sure that there is space for students to have physical distancing,” said Hill. “We are going to stay with the cohort model, but we’re going to elongate each of the in-person days so that rather than leaving at what would have been a scheduled lunchtime, we will be able to do a full school day.”
According to a survey conducted by PUSD, a majority of parents approved of all forms of education—distance, in-person or hybrid. However, after receiving requests from parents, PUSD plans to implement a 100% virtual, online schooling option.
“It will be vastly different than what was in the spring,” said Hill. “Live synchronous instruction would happen daily [and] the frequency would increase. Additionally, we are looking at specific content that is native to online instruction.”
Food services will continue at all levels, with a dedicated breakfast time for elementary school students. The board hopes to provide all levels with breakfast Tuesday to Friday and lunch Monday to Friday.
In addition, PUSD hopes to reopen its preschool and child care facilities. While following the same social distancing, clean and sanitizing protocols recommended by the CDC, children will be grouped in cohorts of 10 per staff member.
According to PUSD, full and part day care will be offered at elementary schools and five additional child centers, with PUSD working to expand the program to more child centers.
Phelps hopes to open schools despite the articles that say it may be an improbable if not an impossible idea.
“It’s going to take everybody pitching in,” said Phelps. “I think it’s going to take an extra amount of commitment to get parents past that fear. It’s going to take a really good plan and opening [for] success. The only way you get past fear is if you try something and you succeed… Everybody has to kind of go beyond their contractually defined roles.”