MENDOCINO Co., 7/15/20 — The Ukiah Unified school board voted in favor of returning children to in-person school on Monday night by a six to one vote. The meeting was not held in-person but as a marathon, nearly five hour long zoom meeting with frustrated staff and parents calling in to voice concerns. According to the plan, schools will be open four full days a week, with students split into two groups attending in person two days each week, beginning Monday, Aug 17.
(Watch the whole meeting on Youtube, scroll down for more news)
In 2019, the return to school would not have been newsworthy, much less a subject that would bring opposition for much of a five-hour meeting held entirely on the computer screen.
“The Ukiah Teachers Association is extremely disappointed that the UUSD Board members did not listen to the voices of the Ukiah community last night to choose the only safe option to open school with distance learning [only],” wrote Terry d’Selkie, UTA board president, in an email interview. She spoke at the meeting for the executive board and 175 of the UTA members who lent their name to a strong statement against resumption of in-person classes until the pandemic slows down. The UTA has more than328 members. The statewide California Teachers Association has also recently come out in support of virtual only openings. as positive tests and hospitalizations rise statewide.
Trustees cited the support of the county health officer for reopening, as well as the pleadings of parents for better learning and noted that they also were unhappy with all the choices presented in these times.
The UUSD plan can be viewed at their website. According to the plant students will attend their usual school two days each week (either Monday & Tuesday or Thursday & Friday) and will learn virtually the other three days each week — though parents will also be allowed to have their children do all distance learning. By having only half the pupils present at any time, it is hoped that great social distancing will be accomplished. Wednesdays will be used to conduct a thorough deep cleaning of campuses.
As part of this plan students will be required to complete four hours of distance learning every school day when not on campus. If a family has students in multiple grades or more than one school, these students will all be attending school on the same days.
Many of the larger school districts in the state, including the Los Angeles Unified School District (second largest in the country), San Diego Unified, and the West Contra Costa County Unified, will be opening their Chromebooks and Macs, but not their doors. Other districts are opting for half days.
Ukiah’s present plan is to stagger lunches and recesses throughout the day to allow for social distancing. Many details remain to be worked out in negotiations among staff, faculty and the district leadership.
Lunch (where mask wearing won’t work) and recess are among the most problematic issues the district faces.
“It could turn out lunch is literally impossible and something that would have to change, “ said trustee Megan Van Sant during the meeting.
The school hours for the in-person reopening will be the same or similar to last year,” said Doug Shald, district communications officer
“My heart is heavy but I have to advocate for starting the school year fully online,” said Teel Gordon, a math teacher during the virtual board meeting.
Gordon read a statement from a student who described how science trumped the normal desire of many students to get out of the house and back to school.
“Teaching means more to me than almost anything in my life and I look forward to meeting my new students next month regardless of the situation,” Gordon said.
About 30 teachers and staff spoke during the five-hour meeting, most to oppose the leadership staff recommended “hybrid plan” the board ultimately chose, which was a compromise between full reopening and virtual-only classes.
“Dozens of Ukiah teachers, staff and parents sent letters, called, as well as spoke eloquently last night, and to no avail,” said union president d’Selkie in her email to The Mendocino Voice.
“The Board decided to go against the science of what we know so far about COVID-19 transmission; against the wishes of the employees who will now be forced to put themselves at risk; and against the community who asked the board to do the safe thing and start the school year with distance learning.”
Trustees said the hybrid plan was flexible and represented the best way forward. The district may go in and out of four attendance models for learning during the school year ranging from all distance learning to full reopening.
“We are not starting gung ho. I’m comfortable with the plan in the middle, we can still go either way.,” said trustee Bea Arkin
Board President Anne Molgaard, who provided the lone “no” vote, said everyone would have to show a “lot of patience” with each other at this time.
She said the fears expressed by teachers at the meeting could impact the quality of their teaching.
“We know that this is a rapidly changing situation. We may have to pivot based on what the science tells us as time goes on. I don’t think where we are in August is where we will be in December or is where we will be in May,” Molgaard said.
Many parents have asked the school board to improve the education of their children by bringing back live contact with teachers.
“Parents are deeply dissatisfied with distance learning being able to meet their children’s needs,” said trustee Van Sant.
Others worry that the pandemic could go on for months or years and students will need more than distance learning.
“As teachers, we all believe that in-person learning is best. But the current circumstances warrant a pause until we can be absolutely sure the numbers of cases are at zero for 14 days in our county. I hope the Board will rethink this ill-thought decision of in person learning, before there is one death or serious illness because of it, d’Selkie said.
Teachers questioned whether underfunded and understaffed schools could remain safe with all the logistics required. Trustee Tyler Nelson asked Superintendent Debra Kubin whether the plan presented staffing shortages.
“We have a great team and a great staff. It’s a more challenging year than others for sure. When we need more [funding] we will come to you, “ Kubin said.
The five-hour meeting was held virtually with people entering through the Zoom waiting room. At times, Zoom created an echo chamber where comments repeated over and over, as the program tends to do.
“It’s so funny not to be able to look out and see real people, assuming you are all out there,” said Molgaard.
Ukiah High teacher Ben O’Neill, who is also a firefighter, said 81 percent of teachers who voted at the high school yesterday voted for distance learning, a big change from a survey taken July 2.
“We are afraid of getting sick and passing it onto our loved ones…In the fire service we have what are called trigger points. If a fire gets so big it will react in a certain way. We as teachers would like to know the district’s trigger point is. If I catch COVID-19, will you close my classroom? If one of my students or I die, will you chalk it up to us having poor immune systems? Hard questions. I don’t envy your position but I do respect your time.”
Students and staff will be required to wear facial coverings while physically attending school in person except when eating or outside physically distanced. Health and safety protocols will include social distancing, frequent hand washing, health screenings, increased sanitation, no parent volunteers and new limits on visitors.
“Our teachers are the most important thing when it comes to our children’s education, and that’s why it is so important that we get the kids in front of teachers as much as possible,” said trustee Nelson, in a press release following the meeting.
The district press release said more than 50 district staff and community members worked since May to make recommendations and draft plans presented to trustees Monday night.
Kubin said, “Today I confirmed that our Public Health Officer still recommends a hybrid model in light of our current numbers and trends. We have 35 days left until the first day of school. However, we know that much can change between now and then. We have created a flexible plan with four different models if the health conditions cause us to pivot from one model to another. We know this is a tough decision for our families, and we will support our students and families no matter which model is selected. Families are urged to make the decision that’s best. Ukiah Unified is doing as much as we possibly can to offer options and choices to continue to support our students’ academic and social-emotional needs during this unprecedented and stressful time.”
Trustees also approved funding for custodial, facility, and technology enhancements, professional development, and the addition of a Family Community Liaison position to focus on COVID-19 related issues and to support school interactions with Public Health. These expenses would come from the additional one-time COVID-19 funds UUSD will receive in the 2020-2021 school year.
It will be necessary for parents and guardians to choose between the Hybrid Model or Distance Learning very soon. UUSD will send parents an email with instructions about how to indicate a choice for each student. View the complete plan at www.uusd.net.
For more information, contact Shald, district communications officer, at 707.472.5005 or [email protected].