OUSD wrestles with how students will return to school

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Chart by OUSD
The above graphic shows survey responses gauging the comfort level of district staff returning with various options, and the comfort level of parents with the various proposed options for student learning in the fall.


Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter
At the Ojai Unified School District Board’s June 25 meeting, superintendent Tiffany Morse and Nordhoff High School Principal Dave Monson updated the school board on the district’s reopening plans for the 2020-21 school year.
Morse said: “We really are held to a number of different public agency requirements, and it’s difficult because those change. We do the best that we can to balance the needs of kids first and foremost, with what’s possible with staff and what’s possible with regulations and also to consider the needs of our staff.”
Since the last time the board discussed the topic, the district did a survey of about 700 parents and 120 staff regarding the return to school.
The survey found that parents would most want a full return to school and least want a full return to distance learning. On the other hand, staff are not ready to have a full return to campus, outside of classified staff. 


Morse said: “Our elementary teachers — 38 percent of the responses were uncomfortable with a full return to campus, which I think is important for us to note. We have less people who are uncomfortable with a hybrid model, which is good news because that is probably what we have to do. Same thing for our parents. We find 30 percent of our elementary parents are uncomfortable with a hybrid. As we get to high school, we have more comfort with a full return to campus and only 14 percent are uncomfortable with a hybrid model.”
At this time, the district has formed bell schedules for each grade level and school based on a hybrid model, where students attend school twice a week in A and B groups, and distance-learn the other three days.
Group A will attend Mondays and Wednesdays, while group B will attend Tuesdays and Thursdays. All students will participate in distance learning or childcare on Fridays.
The reason for this is that the classrooms cannot accommodate the full number of students being on campus while maintaining social distancing, Morse said.
However, the exception is for TK, K and first-graders. Morse said: “We are attempting to have a schedule for kindergarten and first grade where they are on campus and not doing distance learning. But we have some logistics that we have to work out around that, to see if we have the space and to look at staffing, and that’s dependent on funding. But we fundamentally believe that kindergarteners aren’t independent distance learners. They need more assistance, and the more teacher time that they have, the better. We also think that kindergarten parents may choose not to come into our district if they have to do distance learning, and we don’t want to lose them for the next 12 years. Also, there is a lot of socialization and learning about school that happens in a classroom.”
Even with the best-laid plans for reopening, there is another major caveat: having to prepare for a shutdown at any time. Morse said: “So there may be, if there were an exposure, and we’re still working through all the details, would we shut down that class? At the middle school or high school, it might mean we have to shut down multiple classes. It might mean we have to shut down the school, depending on what’s happening in the community.”
At Matilija Middle School, students will take their classes in a modified block schedule with what are called “skinny” classes. A skinny class period is a regular class period that goes through the entire year. In this case, the skinny period will be an elective period.


At Nordhoff, there will be a strictly block schedule with a twist: a scheduled student support period on distance-learning days. Monson said: “Out of the six periods, teachers teach five and then they have a prep period. So one of the semesters, they will have that prep period built in. That’s when we hope to build a robust student support system for those kids to try and maintain some contact, even though we may be on just semester-based blocks.”
For students who do not want to return to campus, there will be the option for solely distance learning, while meeting with teachers daily through Zoom videoconferencing. 
The next steps in preparing for reopening is a ParentSquare message to families, town hall Q&A sessions beginning July 1, continuing to develop specific plans, summer school pilot and staff negotiations.
Two big issues still undecided are athletic and transportation situations, which will continue to be in accordance to local regulations.

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OUSD graphic of options for learning in the Ojai public school district. 







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