Central Valley Christian says it will begin on-campus instruction on Sept. 8 under the governor’s guidelines for day camps; Outside Creek near Farmersville has also opened as a day camp for students of essential workers
TULARE COUNTY – At least two Tulare County school districts are welcoming students back to campus this fall, but they aren’t necessarily offering in-person instruction.
Last Thursday, Central Valley Christian (CVC), a K-12 private school district in Visalia, announced it will offer a combination of in-person and distance learning beginning Sept. 8. Superintendent Larry Baker said the district is operating within the California Department of Public Health’s guidance for day camps, which the state has allowed to be open to provide adult supervision for children of essential workers. Schools, however, are not allowed to open their campuses to students if they are located in counties on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list for having a high rate of infection, such as Tulare County.
“We are not defying the governor’s orders and we have worked hard to make sure we are complying with the governor’s mandate,” Baker said. “We have been in constant communication with the Tulare County Public Health Department to ensure we are in compliance [to operate as a day camp].”
Baker said students will be distance learning 75% of the time with high school students on campus one day per week and elementary students on campus for two and a half hours each day Tuesday through Friday. High school students are split into three groups that come to campus on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday every week. High school students will also have access to on-campus tutoring/instruction by appointment on Fridays. Elementary students are split into morning and afternoon classes Tuesday through Friday. Of the district’s 880 students, Baker said only about 30 have opted out of coming back to campus and are considered on independent study by the district.
“We are social beings and crave the interaction that in-person school provides. This Day Camp model provides the in-person contact we all want,” Baker said. “At the same time, by keeping cohorts small, and implementing health precautions like masks and distancing, [the plan] shows respect and care for the larger community in which we live.”
CVC’s announcement comes a few weeks after Outside Creek, a rural K-8 school south of Farmersville, welcomed students back to its campus. In an email over the weekend, Superintendent Derrick Bravo said he opened under the state’s guidelines for day camps to create a safe place for students to be supervised by adults, get help with navigating new technologies and to get school meals.
“[The day camp] is a way to continue to serve the community,” Bravo stated in the email.
It was the same logic Bravo used in the spring. Instead of closing in the spring, Bravo said the school began minimum days on March 23, the Monday after the governor’s shelter in place order for Californians. The district used the few hours of instruction time to focus on core subjects such as math and English language arts. The rural school did temporary close by extending its spring break for about three weeks. During that time, Bravo and his staff looked at the Department of Social Services Childcare Facilities guidelines and made adjustments that included social distancing, checking temperatures, staggering recess, lunch, and dismissals times; and sanitizing. The school then transitioned into summer school using safety measures to maintain in-person instruction.
Prior to making the decision to remain open, Bravo said Outside Creek studied a CDC report titled “Considerations for School Closure.” On the first page of that report, the CDC stated that “short to medium closures do not impact the epi curve of COVID-19” based on early data modeling and “In other countries, those places who closed schools (e.g., Hong Kong) have not had more success in reducing spread than those that did not (e.g., Singapore).”
The report also noted that closing schools “will increase risk to older adults or those with co-morbidities, as almost 40% of U.S. grandparents provide childcare for grandchildren. School closures will likely increase this percentage.”
Furthermore, the CDC said children of parents who are hourly and low-wage workers will be disproportionately affected by school closures because they have limited access to computers and internet access, thus limiting their distance learning capacity.
“Due to our demographics of being in a rural area with internet access difficulties and with a high percentage of our families being low-wage workers, we decided to stay open,” Bravo said in an email.
Open to debate
Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Tim Hire said the governor’s July 17 order doesn’t allow in-person instruction but day camps are allowed as long as they are not using certificated teachers. Based on his conversations with other county superintendents and state officials, Hire said no more than 10 students can be in one area at the same time, the same group must attend the same area each day and those students are not allowed to share space with other cohorts in other areas of the same building.
“There’s no number of students written specifically, and the conversations I’ve had with California Department of Public Health and County health officials hasn’t really pointed to a hard number,” Hire said. Ten children was a number that had been discussed by CDPH back in March when schools were asked to help provide childcare for essential workers.
Hire said opening as a day camp can be complicated and confusing. The main difference, as far as Hire can tell, is that being considered a school or a day camp could come down to whether or not the adult in the room is a certificated teacher or not.
“If we can have 10 kids in the room with an adult, what does it matter if they are credentialed adults or non-credentialed adults,” Hire said. “If the California Department of Public Health thinks it’s safe for cohorts of 10 or less to be in a room together … I’m struggling to see the difference in having a credentialed person or a non-credentialed person in the room, when the best thing would be to have a credentialed person with those kids.”
Baker said he believes the main distinction is whether or not the material students are working on is being graded. For instance, if a teacher assigns a reading sample as practice for a student to improve their reading skills and then requires a student to answer a brief survey on the reading but it is not graded, this would not be considered “school instruction”, but rather an “enrichment activity.”
Hire said daytime child care is “all over the board” throughout districts in Tulare County ranging from day camps to older students supervising younger siblings.
Day camps must also follow basic COVID-19 precautions including social distancing between desks, all students over a certain age wearing facemasks or face shields, and frequent hand washing and hand sanitizing. Ensuring that school campuses are following the state’s guidelines for day camps falls to the county health department, not the county office of education.
Tulare County Public Health said it is aware of local schools choosing to operate as day camps in providing instruction to children on-site and has been in communication with CVC and Outside Creek. Spokesperson Carrie Monteiro said Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency is encouraging distance learning and discouraging “any effort to congregate children from multiple households as it poses a risk of significant spread of COVID-19.” She also said that Tulare County Public Health does not have any regulatory authority or oversight of Day Camps, and therefore cannot approve or deny a school from operating as such.
“As it stands now, day camps are not regulated by any state agency or have any state oversight,” Monteiro said. “Child care facilities require a permit and are licensed through the state but day camps are not considered child care.”
Schools will be eligible to apply for a waiver to reopen campuses to students in transitional kindergarten through sixth grade but only after the county has less than 200 cases for every 100,000 people for a 14-day period. As of Aug 24, Tulare County’s rate was 307 cases for every 100,000. As a result, the Tulare County Public Health Department will not be approving any waivers until that number drastically declines.
“Ensuring the health and safety of children, teachers, staff, and all of their families is our top priority,” Monteiro said.
Baker said CVC has already submitted paperwork for its waiver to reopen once Tulare County is able to move off the monitoring list and Tulare County Public Health begins approving school plans for reopening. Baker said CVC’s day camp is structured on its reopening schedule which will give parents a smooth transition and keep bus routes the same. For more information on CVC’s COVID-19 response and plan, visit cvc.org/covid19.
Open outside the county
The idea of operating school as day camps is not unique to Tulare County. On Aug. 19, Glendale Unified School District reopened its classrooms to groups of 12 students or less calling them “technology pods,” where students are supervised by an adult while their parents are at work and have access to computer devices and the internet. The day camp students are supervised by a classified staff member or a non-certificated teacher to assist them with computer problems, software navigation or issues connecting with teachers through vide conferencing programs such as Zoom. About 1,000 of the districts 13,000 students are on campus.
“We learned very early and during the pandemic that our parents who are essential workers, parents who could not work from home or parents who had multiple kids, had a dire need for childcare,” Superintendent Vivian Ekchian told CNN. “And the reality was when we changed to remote learning, there wasn’t a place for them to drop off their kids. So this at the elementary level is really an opportunity for childcare, for our parents who can’t stay home with their kids and need a safe place where their students can continue to learn while they’re away working or looking for a job.”
Glendale is located in Los Angeles County, which, like Tulare County, remains on the state’s monitoring list for areas with high rates of COVID-19. Similarly, Los Angeles County Health Department has said it will not issue any waivers for schools to reopen until it is off the monitoring list. Glendale argues it is not in violation of the local or state rules because it is not teaching students, it is only providing a form of childcare for essential workers who cannot be home to supervise young children.