OCEANSIDE — Elementary students in the city’s public school district will remain in their current hybrid in-person instruction model until the district can determine if moving to a five-day modified schedule is safe by county and state health standards.
During the April 13 Oceanside Unified School District board meeting, staff recommended expanding elementary in-person instruction to five days a week on a modified schedule and keeping secondary students in the current schedule.
Elementary students returned to campuses for hybrid in-person instruction on March 15, and secondary students returned on March 29, also in the same hybrid in-person model.
Rather than approve staff’s recommendation, the board in a 3-2 vote decided to keep elementary students in the current schedule until the district consulted with county and state health departments as well as the district’s labor union partners to make sure the classroom sizes and distance between students is actually safe first.
“Following the board meeting, staff immediately began working on preparing this information to report to the board,” said Communications Director Matthew Jennings via email.
Board President Stacy Begin, who made the motion to keep students in the current schedule until more discussions with health officials and negotiations with labor unions occur, also wanted staff to send out a survey to parents asking what their preferences were and how the district could accommodate them better. The survey did not receive support from the rest of the board, however.
Board member Eleanor Juanita Evans, who voted against Begin’s motion and the survey, noted that surveys are only answered by a about a third of the district population and wouldn’t help the district to determine what it already knows — that many parents want their students back in school. She also noted it would take time away from staff who are already working on plans to reopen the schools as soon as possible.
Begin explained that the survey would act as a means to gather more public comment from parents, who haven’t been given a survey about reopening plans since last June. Staff explained they originally steered away from surveys after California’s tiered system took over, which ultimately determined whether schools were even allowed to reopen.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health recommend a 3-foot distance between students in the classroom, but, according to some teachers, bringing more students back to the classroom would violate that distance recommendation.
Charles Finn, a fifth-grade teacher at South Oceanside Elementary, said his large class of 33 children wouldn’t be able to accommodate 3 feet of space between each student or the recommended 6 feet of space between them and Finn as the teacher.
“The minimal 3-foot social distancing is impossible in my classroom,” Finn said. “No matter the furniture configuration, it’s not physically possible.”
That opens up the possibility of Finn needing to move some of his students to another classroom for the remainder of the school year, something that several of his students have already experienced.
“I am the third or fourth teacher many of my students have had this year,” Finn said.
Finn wants the push for getting everyone back to campus to slow down.
“I want to be with my students and I want them to be successful, but I want them to be safe above all,” he said.
Begin, who is also a parent of a student in the district, said she is also concerned about potentially not having 3 feet of space between students. She is also concerned about how changing the schedule a fifth time this year for many students will disrupt them as well as parents and teachers even more.
“Everything is going to get pushed into chaos,” she said. “I think we’re rushing it too quickly.”
According to OUSD Superintendent Julie Vitale, adding a fifth day of instruction wouldn’t necessarily mean putting all students in the classroom at the same time.
“It could be another version of what we have going on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday in the form of a split day,” Vitale said.
Board member Eric Joyce, like Evans, didn’t agree with Begin’s motion. He noted dropping case rates and the county’s transition into the orange tier, as well as the possibility of its shift into the even less restrictive yellow tier happening soon.
“The science shows that now is the time to take action and get students back into the classroom,” Joyce said.
At the time of the school board meeting, the district had approximately six weeks left of this school year. Joyce noted that by pushing back the switch to five days for elementary students would give them even less time in such a schedule, making it an even less appealing amount of time for everyone to adjust.
Staff pointed to moves the district has already made to further help students who need more tutoring and instruction. The district has expanded its bridge program that targets English learners and special-needs students to students making big transitions, like the move from elementary to secondary. The district has also expanded its after-school and summer program offerings as well.
Parent Kyle Dahl was disappointed by the board’s actions at the April 13 meeting as well as previous decisions the board has made throughout the year, adding that he wasn’t alone.
“Many parents are distrustful of the board,” he said.
Currently, Dahl has a first grader at Ivey Ranch Elementary School. His other child would attend kindergarten there in the fall, but Dahl is considering keeping his child in preschool, which has its own kindergarten program, depending on the school district schedule.