EDITOR’S NOTE: Audio from the OUSD board meeting is available at the bottom of the article.
OCEANSIDE — Despite weeks of pushing from parents, the Oceanside Unified School District has yet to formalize a plan to re-open schools for in-person instruction, once permitted under state health directives pertaining to COVID-19.
“We understand that the governor has closed our schools,” district parent and school board candidate Todd Maddison wrote July 20 in an online petition, which has gathered more than 600 signatures. “But we also understand that is temporary. Our schools will, at some point, be cleared to reopen.”
When reopening happens, the district should have an approved, ready-to-go plan for transitioning students back to their classrooms, Maddison told The Coast News.
Governor Gavin Newsom’s announced July 17 that schools in counties flagged for not meeting various virus-related safety thresholds can’t reopen for in-person instruction until their stats improve. San Diego County, which has more virus cases and conducts fewer virus tests than public health officials’ targets, has been on the state’s watchlist since July 3.
For that reason, all county school districts will begin the new school year — Oceanside Unified on August 17, other districts on other days — with a completely online curriculum.
“We recognize that nothing can replace the experiences that a student would have through in classroom learning experiences,” Oceanside Unified staffer Richard Lawrence said at the school board’s July 21 meeting. “We however believe that this [online] structure … gets us as close as possible to experience students would have at school.”
As far as a plan to reopen schools for in-person learning, district staff said doing so would require hiring some 260 extra instructors at an estimated cost of $12 million.
Schools would require extra teachers in order to accommodate smaller groups of students, due to 6-foot social distancing requirements than a classroom would normally hold.
That’s “nothing like a complete plan, and nothing like the detail we’ve seen in other districts or other schools in our area,” Maddison said during the meeting’s public comment period. “I guarantee you there are ways to do that less expensively. … The [$12 million in-person reopening] plan was obviously designed for shock and awe, not as a realistic look at what it would take to do what parents want.”
Of 4,600 families responding to a May survey, more than half said they wanted to resume “on-site” programming in the fall, district staff told the school board at their June 23 meeting. Only 15% preferred virtual programming, while 36% wanted a hybrid approach (2 days on-site, 3 days virtual from home).
Several public commenters at the July 21 school board meeting echoed that sentiment.
“I’m incredibly disappointed with Governor Newsom’s blanket ban on schools reopening,” said Molly Dimon. She says her autistic daughter receives only an hour of specialized instruction per week, nowhere near what it would take to meet the 1,000 hours she’s entitled to receive annually.
“I’ve lost a lot of faith in Oceanside Unified,” not only due to virus-related planning, Dimon told The Coast News in a separate interview. “They don’t seem to listen to parents.”
“It’s pretty pathetic that Oceanside Unified School District couldn’t bother to come up with … a full reopening plan,” Kiran Andrews said. “The majority of the parents told you, distance learning does not work. But you guys, even if Newsom’s order is lifted, have no reopening plan in place. … A Chromebook and WiFi is not an education.”
“In-person interaction is vital for elementary [students], for proper social and emotional development,” said Jill Michel, who wants Oceanside Unified’s schools on Camp Pendleton to reopen for in-person instruction. “Our children [of military families] are disproportionately isolated, just due to the military nature, where we’re constantly moving. We don’t have the support of family to watch our children during the day. … We need school.”
“We may not be looking to you [the school board] to actually make these changes, but to be advocates for us, to go to the state leaders and decisionmakers,” said Joe Bertocchini. He says he and his wife, who both have jobs, can’t afford the extra childcare they now need to pay for.
“We’ve anticipated having students back in the classroom and will continue to prepare for in-person instruction and will be ready for that as soon as public health conditions allow,” Oceanside Unified spokesman Matthew Jennings told The Coast News. “We all want to resume in-person instruction as we know that scholars learn best in that environment.”
“[District] staff has been working diligently over the past couple of months to prepare for every outcome and phase of reopening, including virtual learning. Because of this work, we will be able to offer our students a robust and rigorous virtual learning environment,” he said.
The School Board trustees didn’t respond to a request for comment.
BELOW: Audio from the July 21 Oceanside Unified School District board meeting.