Grades TK–2 to return to campus Nov. 30 and grades 3–6 slated to return on Dec. 7
VISALIA – Tulare County’s largest school district will be allowed to welcome students back to school this fall.
Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency and the California Department of Public Health approved Visalia Unified School District’s elementary school waiver for in-person instruction on Oct. 30. Due to elementary school parent conferences and the Thanksgiving holiday, the return to school date for elementary students in transitional kindergarten (TK) through grade 2 is Nov. 30, 2020. Students in grades 3 through 6 are slated to return to school on Dec. 7, 2020.
The approval came just three days after teachers picketed outside the district office prior to the school board’s Oct. 27 meeting. During the meeting, Visalia Unified Teachers Association president Greg Price softened his rhetoric saying teachers were asking the district to wait on the waiver. Price said 70% of the 1,000 teachers he surveyed wanted to wait until after major holidays to give students time to quarantine before a return to school.
“A January opening date would be much better suited,” Price said. “[Returning to open the spring semester] would be 14 days after Christmas as an incubation period, shielding us from large family gatherings that are likely to occur during the holidays.”
Price did say teachers, administrators and parents all agreed that in-person instruction was the best environment for student achievement.
“The best teaching environment is to have students and teachers in same room,” Price said. “But we are still in most restrictive purple tier and should proceed carefully.”
Elementary school principals sent a short survey to parents during the week of Oct. 19, to collect information on the decision to return to campus for in-person instruction or choose full distance learning. Preliminary results from the survey show 61% of parents have chosen in-person learning, whereas 39% of parents have chosen full distance learning. Those students whose families selected in-person instruction will be allowed to return on campus during their designated A or B schedule. If families selected full distance learning for their children, then those students will remain in full distance learning the remaining of the school year.
Elementary school sites are working now to staff teachers and paraprofessionals to accommodate the choice made by parents. Currently, there are approximately 14,600 students enrolled at 26 elementary sites throughout Visalia Unified School District.
Information regarding return to school plans is located in the 2020-2021 Return to School Planning Guide located on the homepage of the Visalia Unified School District website at www.vusd.org. VUSD has extensive safety and sanitation procedures in place to protect the health of the students and staff. This information and more is included in the planning guide. The waiver is available for public review at bit.ly/3iFBikN.
“The safety and well-being of our students and staff has been and remains our top priority,” VUSD communications coordinator Kim Batty said in a released statement.
Batty reminded parents that in-person instruction will require safety modifications including one-way entry and exit procedures, requirement of masks, physical distancing, limited social interaction, and elimination of recess and meals being served on campus. School site administrators will be providing information to families regarding instruction, safety protocols, transportation, and meals in the coming days.
Price reminded the district they have yet to negotiate the MOU for in-person instruction and are still calling to make adjustments to the middle and high school schedules before they return to campus when Tulare County’s COVID-19 infection rate has dropped to manageable levels.
“Teachers and parents need more clarity about returning to school conditions,” Price said.