NSD prepares to start blended learning; other districts hold off

The Newhall School District Building in Valencia. 010820. Dan Watson/The Signal

Students in the Newhall School District are preparing to return to in-person instruction, while officials in Castaic Union and Sulphur Springs Union school districts continue to discuss reopening.

All 10 campuses within the Newhall district are scheduled to reopen Jan. 19 to students in grades TK-2 only, while Sulphur Springs officials are expected to continue to discuss a reopening date at their next board meeting. 

Castaic Superintendent Steve Doyle said a tentative date of Jan. 25 was approved by the board, but he will be recommending the date be pushed to February as COVID-19 transmission rates surge in the county.

“I’m recommending that the return be delayed into February at our board meeting next week,” Doyle said. “Additionally, we are pausing all in-person instruction for our cohorts of students based on the recommendation of (the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health). The exception is that our moderate-to-severe students and preschool students will continue with their in-person instruction.”

During a news briefing Thursday, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer recommended all in-person instruction be paused for three weeks, saying school districts should provide virtual options for students until the end of January.

Saugus Union School District Superintendent Colleen Hawkins informed parents earlier this week on Thursday that the district would be moving forward with their plans for special education classes to continue four days a week instruction on campus. However, small-cohort Grade 1, Grade 2, english learners and other identified student-cohort instruction will continue through Feb. 1. 

“We have not been approved for waivers,” said Hawkins on Saturday. “We are unable to meet the current cohort sizes of 24 students per classroom and LADPH is not allowing the state cohort size of 14. If LADPH would not be more restrictive than the (California Department of Public Health) on the size of the cohort, we would be able to have our waivers approved.” 

Newhall Superintendent Jeff Pelzel said the district will have a blended in-person and virtual learning model, where students will only be on campus for a short amount of time each day, and continue lessons at home.

He added small cohorts of students in special education classes and in dual immersion programs have been on school sites since November.

“I’ll be providing my regular COVID-19 update at our Jan. 12 board meeting with the latest information from the county and state for the board to discuss,” Pelzel said.

During a special board meeting scheduled for Jan. 19, Sulphur Springs Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi said she and the board will be discussing a date for reopening.

The William S. Hart Union High School district board of trustees will also meet for a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss if temporarily halting small cohorts is necessary after Ferrer’s recommendation, according to district spokesman Dave Caldwell.

Superintendents from all three school districts said parents have the option to opt out of in-person instruction if they are uncomfortable sending their child to school as distance-learning options will still be available.

Reopening waivers were granted to the three school districts by Public Health after the districts completed an application and provided proof the district would adhere to health and safety protocols, have sufficient personal protective equipment and available COVID-19 testing for teachers and staff. Once a consultation with the county’s Public Health Department and the California Department of Public Health was conducted, the county would approve the waivers.

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