Larger districts begin submitting K-6 waivers

Lindsay, Exeter, Cutler-Orosi unified districts have all applied with Tulare County Public Health for K-6 waivers

TULARE COUNTY –Lindsay Unified became the first unified school district to apply for a waiver for TK-6th grade to return to in-person instruction late last month.

The district filed its waiver with Tulare County Public Health after the school board approved the waiver document at its Sept. 28 meeting. The waiver is for all six of Lindsay Unified School District’s (LUSD) elementary schools, which are all K-8 as the district does not have a middle school, including Roosevelt, Jefferson, Washington, Regan, Lincoln and Kennedy.

Lindsay’s Director of Student Services Brian Griffin said the district began the process to file a waiver as soon as it was offered in August.

“We plan on moving at a pace that will ensure safety at the very highest level for all of our learners and staff,” Griffin said.

LUSD finalized conditions for returning to work in conversations with both the Lindsay Teachers Association and the classified employees who are part of the California School Employees Association (CSEA) Chapter 438 on July 31, which has proven to be a major hurdle in Visalia Unified.

“Return to work agreements have been approved and signed. The ongoing dialogue continues as working conditions change due to state and local health guidelines,” the district’s waiver application states. “All parties agree to continue discussions as needed.”

As part of the waiver process, Lindsay also had to submit its plan to address several key areas when reopening, such as cleaning and disinfection, keeping students socially distanced from each other and from classroom to classroom, health screenings for students and staff before entering campus, staff testing and protocols for shutting down and reopening if there is an outbreak.

Under Lindsay Unified School District’s (LUSD) reopening plan, classrooms will be sanitized every evening. Learners will not share any devices, supplies or desks. Lunches will be served and classes held outdoors when temperatures are below 90 degrees, so most of the rest of the fall semester.

“We are following all of the guidelines that do encourage outdoor learning environments when possible,” Griffin said. “Outdoor classes will be at the discretion of each educator.”

Grades will have staggered lunch times and recess times. Parents are to wait in their cars for students during drop off and pick up times, and every child will have their temperature checked through a touchless thermometer by staff at the school site. Any student with symptoms or a temperature of 100.4 or higher will be sent home. Griffin said the district is offering parents a screening app for elementary-age learners.

Face coverings are required at all times, except when eating, for grades 3-6 and all staff members. Every student in grades TK-2 will be encouraged to keep their mask on for the entire time. Any students refusing to wear a mask will be reassigned to distance learning from home. LUSD has already measured and rearranged every facility and structure and posted the allowable number of people in each room. The district sent a copy of the state’s “Reopening Guidebook” to all of its parents for review.

The district will be turning off all water fountains on campuses and provide drinking water to students by using water dispensers and paper cups that will be disposed after each use.

Staff members will be required to do self-health screenings prior to arriving on campus by using the “Daily Symptom Checker” app.

If a staff member or child has a confirmed case of coronavirus, the district’s designated COVID Task Force will notify county health officials and begin conducting contact tracing led by the school nurse. Any student or staff member who has had close exposure to anyone with a confirmed case of COVID will be sent home immediately. Staff members will be tested regularly by their primary care provider with at least 25% of staff being tested every two weeks and half of the staff each month, rotating the groups every other month. School nurses will be tested every month.

If more than 5% of learners in a classroom have COVID during a two-week window, the classroom will be closed. If more than 5% of a school has COVID within the window, LUSD will close the school. If more than 25% of its schools are closed in a two-week window, LUSD will close all of its school sites until the superintendent, in consultation with county health officials, deems it is safe to reopen.

Griffin said the biggest challenge to returning to school is creating a schedule that maximizes insuctional time for leaners while ensuring their safety through social distancing.

“Ideally, we would like all learners who wish to return to be able to come back on their regular schedule, but safety guidelines may require schedules to be altered,” Griffin said.

Melissa Hawkins, LUSD’s coordinator of educational systems and programs, said the district is estimating about 50% of families will remain in distance learning. About 91% of Lindsay parents were satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of technology and wifi during the spring school closure. While many were satisfied, there were problems in the spring which continue to exist today. Hawkins said learners from multi-child households or learning from a caregiver’s home reported some difficulties focusing on their synchronous instruction. Internet access was also an issue for LUSD despite being the first district to provide districtwide wifi in Tulare County. Hawkins said when several learners in the same household are on Zoom at once, it can slow the connection. She said the district is continuing to make improvements to the WiFi infrastructure to help learners connect with ease.

“Learners also report simply missing the relationships they have at school,” Hawkins said. “They want to talk to their friends and staff in-person.”

Exeter Unified and Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified followed suit last week with a similar plan based on county and state health department guidance. Both of the unified school districts’ applications are pending approval by Tulare County Public Health. Other waivers pending county approval are from a host of charter and rural schools such as Outside Creek in Farmersville, Buena Vista School in Tulare, Sequoia Union in Lemon Cove, Springville Union, Strathmore Union and Valley Life Charter and Grace Christian School in Visalia.

Fifteen school districts, including public schools in Porterville, Seville, Terra Bella and Tulare have received approval from both local and state health departments to reopen under a waiver as of press time. For more information, or to see the reopening plans, visit covid19.tularecounty.ca.gov/school-resources.

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