SCV schools formalize delayed returns

SIGNAL FILE PHOTO: Students line up outside their classrooms on the first day of school at Newhall Elementary School in Newhall. Dan Watson/The Signal 081519
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By Caleb Lunetta & Perry Smith

Following votes held Monday and Tuesday by the governing boards for the Newhall, Saugus Union and Sulphur Springs Union school districts, all five public school districts within the Santa Clarita Valley have officially postponed their return to physical campuses in the fall.

Last week, both Castaic Union and the William S. Hart Union High School District adopted online learning formats, with plans to improve upon what’s learned from the emergency online learning formats schools used this past spring.

The decisions by each of the districts revolve around the guidelines made recently by state and local health officers regarding the requirements to return to campuses. On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would not allow schools in the counties on the state’s watchlist to reopen, Los Angeles County among them. 

More than 30 counties are on the watchlist, meaning that they are all counties that are experiencing negative trends in regards to COVID-19. After a county has been off the “watchlist” for two weeks, it may look into reopening its schools.

During the board meeting held on Monday, SSUSD officials stated they would have students start the school year online on Aug. 13. Once L.A. County is no longer on the monitoring list, staff and students would begin returning to in-person classes in phases, said SSUSD officials. 

The NSD board members and SUSD board members expressed similar sentiments during their Tuesday night meetings regarding waiting until L.A. County is taken off the watchlist.  

Castaic Union School District Superintendent Steve Doyle declined to put a timeline on the district’s return. 

While it appears that the school boards are making individual decisions, SUSD Superintendent Colleen Hawkins said, the districts are required to follow the parameters established by the guiding agencies, such as the Los Angeles County Public Health Department and the Governor’s Office. 

The William S. Hart Union High School District said it would wait five weeks after the first day of school to reevaluate its position, and see if it’s safe and/or allowable to move forward with a blended model, or having different groups of students attend in-person classes on alternating days. 

All school districts have expressed their desire to follow a blended-learning model once the first phase of re-entry begins.

The Newhall district also discussed adopting an a.m./p.m. model, meaning that the student groups would be attending school either in the morning or in the afternoon. All other districts had students attending on alternating days.

The districts have said that the online learning format will have teachers providing live instruction, have progress monitoring and taking attendance regularly, as well as other trappings similar to traditional school settings. 

More than 270 parents and community members watched online as Newhall School District leaders unanimously approved an online-only start in the fall Tuesday night.

The district has had a task force of officials working on the issue since May, looking at a blended learning model, which would be a hybrid of online and in-person classes, and the digital learning academy, which would be fully online.

The recommendation was also made to look at a phased-in approach for blended learning as soon as safely possible.

NSD Superintendent Jeff Pelzel also announced that child care will be available at all 10 district sites from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The district is also subsidizing 1,100 spots for kids.

The Newhall district also discussed the petition waiver mentioned by state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, and L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, which would allow local elementary school districts to apply for in-person classes despite Newsom’s statewide order for online classes.

Pelzel noted there was “really important language” in the exemption waiver that called for district officials, parents and educators to all be on the same page with respect to supporting a return. A recent teachers union poll for the Newhall district noted that two-thirds of teachers did not think it was safe yet to return to the classroom.

The motions to begin the school year online were voted on unanimously by all the boards in all the districts.

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