To little surprise, the South Pasadena Unified School District will kick off the new school year by having students continue to learn remotely through the use of district-supplied Chromebooks or their own computers, as no end to the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight.
When the Board of Education approved the plans Thursday, July 16, it was just as well: On the next morning, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that schools in counties being monitored by the state for their coronavirus outbreaks must start the year with distance learning, and Los Angeles County is among them. Schools may transition out of distance learning only after their home county has been off the monitoring list for 14 consecutive days.
“I certainly hope that you all appreciate that in the day of COVID, every single day is a new day and any plans that we might have had yesterday, they have been changed, turned upside down and thrown out the window today,” school board President Michele Kipke said. “So I do appreciate that this has been a moving target, that every single day we’ve had to pivot and adjust to a new set of assumptions.”
In the meantime, the school board adopted a hybrid framework outlining how some students would return to the classroom, but it was clear that decision was made to satisfy county mandates rather than out of any serious hope the plan could be put into action soon.
“We adopted a placeholder budget. This is very much a placeholder plan, in the sense that there’s a lot of details still to be worked out,” board member Jon Primuth said.
At the very least, district officials are expecting a more robust remote teaching program for the start of this school year, after having to essentially cobble one together from scratch in the spring after Newsom pressured districts to enact distance learning once they closed their doors. The board adopted separate plans for elementary schools and middle and high schools.
“Obviously, we need to be setting a standard where there’s a consistent expectation of really high-, high-quality instruction for all students across all classes with all teachers,” Kipke said.
District officials plan to broach the topic of daily child care in the coming weeks. Other districts that have adopted remote teaching models, like Glendale Unified School District, plan to create child-care “pods” in which the same small group of elementary students will gather in a classroom each day, under the supervision of a substitute teacher or other classified employee, while participating in the remote lessons.
Protocols likely to be adopted in the event that schools physically reopen include mandatory face-mask use, class-size reduction, routine hand washing and surface sanitizing, and staggered class schedules. The district outlined a potential plan in which three student groups would rotate between in-person classes and instruction via livestream.
Board member Suzie Abajian hesitated to vote on plans for the hybrid model, more for a perceived lack of support or clear direction from state and federal officials than out of any doubt about SPUSD’s administrators.
“I personally don’t want to approve a plan that I still have a lot of questions about,” she said.
Board member Ruby Kalra reiterated that approving a hybrid model did not mean the district was going to leave it unaltered or even force the plan into action at the earliest possible time.
“I see this sort of still, like everything else, as a living document and there’s room for continued input and continued change,” she said, “but we need to have at least a framework, a model to say, if for some reason tomorrow we had a vaccine and everyone was ready to be back on campus, we had a plan that was the starting place and that we adapted and moved even further forward.”