Four elementary schools and one middle school are asked to come up with solutions for lunch, transportation for a full-day schedule
VISALIA – A misunderstanding at the last Visalia Unified school board meeting led parents to believe students at five schools were being given the opportunity to return to full-day instruction before others. But what some were calling an unthinkable lapse in equality was really a mental exercise in thinking ahead.
The April 13 agenda featured a slide in the “Update on VUSD 2020-21 School Year” presentation discussing five schools which had begun reviewing criteria and needs to transition to a longer day schedule. Dedi Somavia, assistant superintendent of human resources, said Shannon Ranch, Four Creeks, Conyer and Annie R. Mitchell elementary schools as well as Oak Grove Middle School were “pilot schools” to test out protocols to solve the challenges of providing lunch and transportation. Despite new guidelines allowing just three feet of social distancing between students, Somavia said six feet of distancing is still required between students and adults, between adults and other adults, and when students are eating and drinking. For example, Somavia said these sites are looking at 20- by 30-foot party tents to generate more space for students to have lunch.
Trustee Megan Casebeer Soleno asked why the sites were selected. Somavia said the five schools were in different parts of the city with different bus stops and traffic patterns, some were older sites will larger rooms, some were newer with smaller rooms, and they tried to avoid sites with heavy transportation needs as current guidelines make busing large groups of students difficult. Somavia said the district had to start using passenger vans to add capacity to the bus routes, but were also finding it difficult to hire enough drivers for the additional vehicles.
“So you have no intention to open some schools and not other schools?” Soleno asked.
Superintendent Tamara Ravalin responded, “No, this is just in an exploration phase. If we can solve issues there we can replicate it elsewhere. Those sites help us explore what our options are.”
Trustee Jacqui Gaebe asked why only five schools were planning for these issues if all schools are planning to return to a full-day schedule in the fall. Ravalin said once these schools think through some of the issues, will create a plan and then share their findings with the other school sites.
“What would need to happen to return to full time this year?” Gaebe asked.
Ravalin said Somavia and Greg Price, president of the Visalia Unified Teachers Association, were working collaboratively to solve the issues at creating plans at five sites is easier than coordinating plans at every site at the same time.
“We don’t want to make new problems by trying to solve one problem,” Ravalin said.
Kim Coburn said she didn’t understand why the district needed to explore the issue when most experts have deemed schools are safe to return.
“All teachers and staff have had opportunity to get vaccinated, so I ask Mr. Price and VUSD when it will be safe to have a full return for those that wish?.”
Ravalin thanked Price and the VUTA for their partnership in the exercise and reminded those in attendance district teachers had not worked under but negotiated several different agreements as guidelines were continually in flux during the year-long pandemic.
“Our teachers also want students back but want it done in a thoughtful way,” Ravalin said.