Letter: VUSD board member answers questions

To the Editor,

It is my honor to serve as a trustee on the Visalia Unified School Board, and I know my six other colleagues have the same sentiment. For that reason, I would like to address the misinformation that is circulating in our community. 

As we are in the midst of a pandemic, we are in uncharted territory. Education of our children must continue. In addition, the district has been charged to feed our students and any other families that request meals for their children ages 1 to 18. We have increased the number of meals we serve from 2,500 to 8,000. The week of April 27, we will serve 9,000 children which is 90,000 meals. 

Ever since the school closure on March 13, Dr. Ravalin and her staff have worked to solve problems that have never been encountered before. The state mandates that the district must feed every child between the ages of 1 and 18; whether they attend our schools or live in our community cannot be taken into consideration. More people are unemployed, so our numbers of students to feed are continuing to increase. Every morning at 8 a.m., the VUSD Emergency Response team is together, problem solving the issues from the day before. Social distancing, traffic, and more efficient ways of food distribution are being addressed. Since the closure of our schools, it has been Dr. Ravalin’s top priority to feed our students. Schools were closed on March 13, and 2,500 meals were ready to be served on the following Wednesday.

The next issue to be addressed was to continue the education of our students. We were unprepared to use technology to the fullest extent because many of our families do not have access to internet. We could not move forward unless ALL our students could move forward. Many advocacy groups made it clear, unless all students have access to technology, our district could be sued. The district’s first priority was to make sure our Advanced Placement and college dual enrollment students had access to the internet. Then we printed all study materials that students could pick up at the food distribution sites. Review material was provided until after spring break. The district had to shut down access to many on-line (e.g., Zoom) platforms to protect our students. Hacking offenses and inappropriate interruptions were occurring.

After spring break, state -aligned curriculum for each grade level and subject matter was posted on the VUSD website. Teachers called parents and asked if they would like the printed version of the curriculum. Sixty-three percent of the families wanted printed curriculum, so it was printed. We ran out. Parents must have changed their minds, picked up multiple packets, or students who do not attend our schools picked up packets. Our incredible print shop ended up printing close to 60,000 (there are 29,000 students in VUSD) packets of curriculum, and they were all gone by the April 20 meal distribution. How that happened, I am not sure, but one thing I am sure of, we want to do the best we can for our students.

Our teachers have been working hard contacting their students via phone, Class Dojo and Google Classroom. They have modified and augmented the lessons. Parents can reach out to their child’s teacher through phone, email, Class Dojo or Google Classroom. 

My heart goes out to our seniors. We really want graduation ceremonies. If the state guidelines to reopen are met before the end of the school year, we will have graduation ceremonies. If the state guidelines are not met, the district has a committee working on creative ways we can honor our seniors. 

I have a few suggestions: 

  1. If you have a question or suggestion, please reach out to board members, teachers, or Dr. Ravalin. Since Dr. Ravalin has been extremely communicative with all updates on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, phone calls, texts, e-mails, VUSD phone app, and the VUSD website, please make every effort to stay updated. 
  2. Please try to stop accusations and insults. We understand your frustration, but we are facing ever-changing problems that we have never encountered before. The District Emergency Response Team meets every day to strategize solutions. Please keep in mind that we must adhere to state guidelines as well, and we realize that the general public may not be aware of these additional requirements.
  3. Students, please keep learning. We don’t want anyone falling too far behind. If you are not doing the work, this hurts all the students in your class. We want to put forth our best effort during this time.

Visalia community, we are in this together. We will get through this together.

Walta Gamoian
Visalia Unified School Board
Trustee Area 1

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