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OUSD plans for opening schools are up in the air

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Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter
Ojai Unified School District elementary students returned to in-person instruction on Nov. 2, and the plan was for middle and high school students to return at the start of the second semester on Jan. 25.
However, Angie Genasci, president of the Ojai Unified School District’s Ojai Federation of Teachers, told the school board at its Nov. 18 meeting that, in this “time of crisis,” the teachers’ union “does not feel that it is the right time for our middle and high school students to return to campus. And because we know that the youngest students are not spreaders of the virus, we are in a watch-and-wait position regarding our current status of in-person learning.”
Along with the excitement teachers feel about the return to in-person instruction “comes a lot of concern and anxiety,” she said. “The (OFT) membership worries daily about the safety of their students, themselves, their colleagues, and the community at large. With 94 percent of counties in California in the purple tier, and Ventura County being one of them, it is critical that we keep safety at the forefront of all decisions that are made. ...”
She said data show that older students “are not taking the kind of precautions needed to stop the spread.” While Ojai’s COVID-19 numbers are not as bad as the rest of the county’s, if the numbers change after the holidays, Genasci said the OFT “will be pushing for a return to distance learning and certainly for the district to not bring back our older students.”
A survey done by Ann Inman, Nordhoff High School teacher and union site representative, indicated the majority of faculty are not comfortable with a return to in-person classes. Inman wrote in public comments, which were stopped being read aloud after the three-minute public comment time, that 93 percent of teachers have concerns about student safety in January, and 86 percent are concerned about their own safety. 

 

The overwhelming majority of parents who submitted written comments were in favor of returning to campus in some form. 
Parent Chelsey Fink, a leader in parent-teacher groups at several OUSD schools, wrote: “All students are struggling, and emotionally, socially, physically deteriorating. Their overall well-being is at stake. Please do everything you can and fight for the right thing to get them back on campus.”
Parent Deborah Kirkland wrote: “Our high school seniors and at-risk youth are experiencing acute loss of emotional support by being precluded from an on-campus school experience. Because the Ojai community has not experienced the same level of COVID case rise as the rest of Ventura County, it seems reasonable to transition our students back to campus.”
Thus far, Moorpark High School is the only traditional high school in the county that has returned to campus using a hybrid format. “I would say in Moorpark, my understanding is there has not been a week yet where they haven’t had multiple classes quarantined, and at home on distance learning,” OUSD Superintendent Tiffany Morse said. “So it’s kind of a constant cycle of quarantining.”
Morse said the data show no evidence of significant transmission of the virus in elementary schools, but this is not the case for middle and high schools. She said: “At this time, we have agreed to keep our elementary schools open, but what is really, really critical to that is that is that families who travel for the holidays follow the quarantining rules and follow the social-distancing rules.”
At the secondary level, one student testing positive for COVID means 96 students and six teachers must be quarantined. “We had a positive student this week on (Nordhoff’s) campus, and we quarantined the one pod that that student was in contact with,” Morse said. “But if we had been in class, we would have had many, many more quarantines.”
Board President Shelly Griffen said that as a parent of an OUSD senior and freshman, she empathizes with parents who have students struggling with distance learning.
However, Griffen said: “I also want to say how crushing it is to go on social media and see our kids’ friends going to parties, and families having parties. And how frustrating it is that I can’t look the teachers in the eye and say they’ll be safe, because I don’t know what students are doing and what they’re bringing on campus.”
Board clerk Kevin Ruf  suggested the district use its sports model to help kids return to some sense of normalcy both in athletics and other areas. He said: “I don’t think anyone on this board or anyone in this administration is going to force, or try to force, teachers to do something that they don’t want to do. But what I hope is that … we can be creative and find as many avenues, because I really do believe it is a crisis for the families of kids who are not getting out into the world in sports or any other environment.”
Board vice president Jane Weil said she hopes the district will continue to take its plans month by month to allow for the best chance that students can return before the end of the year.
The meeting was recorded and can be viewed on the Ojai Valley News Facebook page and OUSD website and Facebook page.

 

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