October 17, 2021

USB CF

The Education People

Instructional modes, COVID-19 rules at Stanislaus schools

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As the new academic year nears, Stanislaus County school leaders have begun informing families of their instructional options and COVID-19 safety requirements for the fall.

School districts in California are required to follow guidance from the California Department of Public Health that says students and adults must wear masks inside school buildings. Districts also need to offer a remote independent study program for students whose parents deem the health risks too great to return to in-person instruction.

This was voluntary for districts before the pandemic, according to EdSource.

The state asked districts to decide how to enforce mask-wearing and recommended school leaders tailor other safety protocols to their local communities. Independent study offerings vary depending on whether a school district had an existing remote option or is building its own to comply with the new regulations.

Here are some Stanislaus County school districts’ plans. The Modesto Bee will update this story as more information becomes available.

Modesto City Schools

Families at MCS can enroll their students in full-time in-person instruction or Modesto Virtual Academy, according to an email sent to parents Wednesday evening.

Masks are required for all students and staff inside school buildings, but not outdoors. Desks no longer will be spaced out for social distancing and won’t have plexiglass shields, according to the email.

If families choose not to send their children back to classrooms, they should fill out an interest form on the district’s MVA webpage.

MVA students meet with a teacher either in person or virtually once a week for one hour. At those meetings, they’ll receive assignments for the upcoming week and complete them independently at their own pace.

Senate Bill 130 requires that TK-8 students interact daily with a teacher or MVA staff member, the email said. MVA students in grades TK-3 will have a brief daily lesson with a teacher. Students in grades 4-8 will receive daily contact from an MVA staff member, according to an FAQ page.

Students enrolled in MVA can choose to switch to on-campus instruction at any time, according to the FAQ page.

The district will provide free meals to all students, according to the email. Information on pickup locations will be posted to the MCS website soon, the email said.

Sylvan Union School District

Sylvan Union will follow the state public health K-12 school guidance and require masks indoors, Superintendent Eric Fredrickson said in a Facebook post. The district will ease social distancing and remove barriers on students’ desks, the post said.

Sylvan is developing an independent study program for students whose health would be endangered by returning to school buildings. The July 15 post said a commitment agreement would be sent to families this week via Aeries.

Students in independent study will complete most of their learning at their own pace. Teachers will deliver live, virtual lessons daily to students in grades TK-3 and at least weekly to students in grades 4-8, the post said. Fourth- through eighth-graders will communicate daily with a school employee.

School officials still are figuring out how many minutes per day students will receive live interaction and what form the lessons and communications will take, according to the post.

Students enrolled in independent study must have access to an adult at home to help them, according to the post.

In comments, parents both protested the mask requirement and applauded the school district’s decisions.

Turlock Unified School District

TUSD asked parents to complete a commitment survey by July 26 indicating whether their student will return to in-person instruction or choose independent study. Parents can enroll their children in the remote option due to health concerns.

The district will use Edgenuity for its independent study curriculum for grades 7-12 and a TUSD board-approved curriculum for grades TK-6, according to Commitment Survey Information posted to TUSD’s website.

Independent study for grades TK-6 will include synchronous instruction in small groups for one hour four times a week and an hour-and-a-half once a week. Students in grades 7-12 will attend a daily teacher check-in and a weekly hour of live individual instruction.

Social-emotional learning will be part of both programs. All students will be required to turn their cameras on.

For in-person instruction, the district will follow state health guidance that says students and teachers will wear masks in classrooms, but do not have to outside, according to a presentation in a virtual forum Wednesday evening.

Every classroom will have an upgraded air filter by the time school starts, and the district will take other steps such as opening doors or windows to increase ventilation, according to the presentation. Hand sanitizer will be available in every classroom.

TUSD will continue to perform contact tracing and will report COVID-19 cases to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency, according to the presentation.

Denair Unified School District

Denair Unified School District will require face coverings indoors in compliance with state guidance, Superintendent Terry Metzger said in a letter sent to parents July 21.

The district will continue its mask enforcement discipline from the past school year, the letter said. Students who don’t wear face coverings first receive a reminder from staff. If it becomes a “problem,” administrators meet with parents to discuss moving their child to distance learning.

Metzger pointed parents who don’t agree with the mask mandate to the CDPH.

“It is not in our jurisdiction as a school district to bend the rules or ignore them,” Metzger said in the letter.

DUSD will offer independent study for K-12 students through Denair Charter Academy, according to a notification of enrollment options sent to parents.

Parents who want to opt their child into DUSD’s independent study program should complete this form by August 1.

Students can switch to in-person instruction or re-enroll in independent study at any point during the school year.

Kindergarten through third grade students in independent study will participate in daily synchronous instruction, fourth through eighth graders will have daily live interactions and weekly synchronous instruction and high schoolers will have weekly synchronous instruction, according to the enrollment notice.

Empire Union School District

Superintendent David Garcia said families were notified of in-person and independent study options on July 9. As of Wednesday, only 2% of students opted into course-based independent study.

EUSD will follow CDPH and CalOSHA guidelines on masks, Garcia said.

The district will implement physical distancing of at least three feet in all situations, according to EUSD’s COVID-19 Safety Plan.

Students and staff must complete a temperature screening and wellness check each day before entering a school building, according to the plan.

This story will be updated on modbee.com as other public school districts in Stanislaus County share details of their COVID-19 safety plans and independent study options.

Emily Isaacman is the education reporter for The Bee’s community-funded Economic Mobility Lab, which features a team of reporters covering equity, economic development and education. The Lab’s support comes from Stanislaus State University, E.&J. Gallo Winery, Porges Family Foundation, the James B. McClatchy Foundation and more than 250 community members.

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Emily Isaacman covers education for the Modesto Bee’s Economic Mobility Lab. She is from San Diego and graduated from Indiana University, where she majored in journalism and political science. Emily has interned with Chalkbeat Indiana, the Dow Jones News Fund and Reuters.