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Hart District reviews possible options for coming school year

Signal File Photo: Members of the Castaic High School Cheer team, left, welcome freshman students as they arrive for their first day of school at the new Castaic High School in Castaic. Dan Watson/The Signal

Although no decisions were made regarding the upcoming school year during the Wednesday morning special meeting, the William S. Hart Union High School District governing board mulled over the options, evaluating whether the district will continue distance learning or attempt to create an on-campus system that would be safe for all involved.

There are two options for families to choose from, according to district staff: online instruction and blended instruction (with online and in-person classes being offered).

“It’s important for everybody to understand the scope of our board’s authority and every local governing board’s authority is restricted by our county of Los Angeles Public Health order,” said Superintendent Mike Kuhlman. “Sometimes, I believe that there may be a misunderstanding that while it’s true that our board makes the decision about when we return to school … those details are defined by the mandates found in the Public Health order.”

When they were making the plans for the community, they had three priorities: health and safety (comply with county health order); bring students back to campus as soon as it is safe to do so; and respond flexibly to changes in health orders, according to district staff.

While the staff began to make plans for the district, they issued a survey to district parents and teachers. Of the 7,508 parents who responded to the survey: 1,051 (14%) suggested all online learning; 2,553 (34%) wanted a blended option; and 3,904 (52%) had an on-campus preference.

Of the 830 teachers who responded to the survey, 91 had an online preference (11%), 307 had a blended preference (37%) and 432 (52%) had an on-campus preference.

Two blended models dominated the conversation during Wednesday’s discussion.

District staff presented two models for the public to view, the first of which divided students into two separate groups who would then attend school on alternating days, twice a week. Wednesdays would be late start days, and the two cohorts would alternate attendance.

Distance learning would occur on the days the students are not in class and the three classes would occur per day in a block schedule.

The second model presented by district staff had the students divided into two separate cohorts, but attending school four days a week, with one cohort taking the morning session and the second cohort taking the afternoon session.
On Wednesdays, in the second model, students would participate in distance learning only, and there would also be three classes per day in a block schedule.

As the health order currently stands, extracurriculars such as sports would not be allowed to exceed 50 people in total, and need to be divided into subgroups not exceeding five students per group, said Kathy Hunter, assistant superintendent of educational services. Only conditioning is allowed and no contact or drills involving passing of balls or objects would be allowed, for the time being.

Additionally, as the health order presently stands, masks would need to be worn at all times by both students and teachers. Students who would participate in choir or band would not be required to wear a mask while playing their instrument or singing, but would need to rehearse in a space that allows for social distancing, Hunter said.

The campuses will have guidelines for directions students can walk and will work to ensure that students are able to eat their food or lunch while also staying socially distanced, Hunter said.

During the presentation on Wednesday, the district also outlined the plan for the return to school being broken down into four stages: stage 1 is online; stage 2 is cohorts (which is where the district is at presently); stage 3 is expanded cohorts; and, finally, stage 4 is a the full return to traditional school.

Among the challenges for the district: the monitoring of the health and well-being of 500-1,500 people each day; ensuring things are clean and kept to the Public Health Department standards; contact tracing should a student test positive; and the issues associated with transportation to and from campus. Additional concerns noted in Hunter’s presentation were food services; staff/students with health concerns; students electing not to return to campus; and extracurricular activities, such as choir and robotics.

“This is a nightmare for parents, it’s a nightmare for teachers — it’s a nightmare for everyone,” said board President Linda Storli, when discussing how the pandemic has affected everyone, especially in education. “And I wish the nightmare would go away, but I also wish to be taller, and that’s not happening.

“Whatever we do, some people are going to be very unhappy and we can’t do much about that except try to do the best that we can for the students that we have, and the teachers that we have and the classified staff that we have,” Storli added.

The board is set to discuss the plans once again at its next meeting June 30. Storli encouraged the public to submit comments and questions about what they would like to see or learn more about for the fall 2020 semester, which starts Aug. 11.

“Whatever we ultimately decide upon, whatever direction the board has us move … we will be listening and these plans will be revised between now and Aug. 11,” said Kuhlman, meaning that health orders may change the requirements placed on the district between now and then. “So please do not think that any of this is set in stone.”

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