School board votes in multiple learning options for 2020-21 school year

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More than 120 days have passed since students across San Diego county were sent home from schools on March 13 in an effort to slow a potential surge in COVID-19 cases, and ultimately tasked with finishing the year’s lessons through distance learning applications at home rather than returning to area campuses.

On July 7 the Santee School Board unanimously approved a plan for students to return for the 2020-21 school year that includes two options for parents: a modified approach to in-classroom learning as well as a distance learning option for parents who prefer to keep students from home for the school year.

At the meeting, Santee School District Superintendent Kristin Baransky said the safety of students and staff were at the forefront of every decision made about the impending year.

“There is no way to make every single person one-hundred percent happy but the board does recognize what a huge responsibility this is. We don’t take this lightly and these are unprecedented times. In our  wildest dreams, we never pictured this situation,” Baransky said.

Baransky said the district sought feedback from parents and staff prior to designing possibilities for the looming school year. More than 1,200 responses gathered between June 26 and July 3  included parental  suggestions to open safely, consider special education needs, and  provide a campus model that could be utilized by parents required who  cannot work from home.

Responses from staff also pointed to a need to get back to work as well as concerns of increased exposure and a request for distance learning options.

Much of the discussion focused on plans for students who will once again sit in Santee classrooms.

“It’s important for parents to recognize that it might not look like a traditional classroom, it might be a multipurpose room to keep cohorts separate,” Baransky said.

Potentially, an additional 30 teacher salaries could be sourced from  Federal Mitigation Learning Money in order to reduce student-teacher ratios and accommodate multiple smaller cohorts of students.

“What I’m telling you tonight is that based on the funding available, we have the ability to bring every child back on campus with smaller class sizes, if necessary,” Baransky said.

Lunch and recess time for on-campus students will also look different with play structures kept entirely off limits to reduce the need for  surface disinfection.

The superintendent said lunch times will be staggered and Child Nutrition Services will be placing mobile lunch carts in multiple locations around campuses.

“We are talking about our K-3 students being able to get outside for lunch and making sure they have designated outdoor play areas until the time when we can have stable groups playing with other stable groups. The fourth through eighth graders would actually be eating in the classroom and then they’ll have time outside after lunch because we know they need some outside time. We’re looking into additional campus aids,” Baransky said.

Alternatively, the distance learning program requires a year-long  commitment from parents who will serve as their students’ primary instructor with a district-assigned caseload manager employed to oversee the program for various schools in the district.

Baransky acknowledged the district had received a few comments from  parents who do not feel it is safe to send children to school with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic but want to preserve a sense of school  community. She said the district might offer blended facilitation of  lesson plans and opportunities for tutorial sessions, and perhaps find ways to do virtual field trips or take other approaches to increase engagement from home until students return to campus.

The superintendent said the district will work with families who begin the year with one plan and later decide they want to transition from homeschool to a classroom setting or vice versa, but parents are being asked to make a year-long commitment to their decision in an effort to keep enrollment in those programs stable.

“When we roll the plans out to families, we need this to consider this as a year plan because we’re looking at staffing ratios that would make it very challenging if we suddenly had an influx of students coming off of homeschool,” Baransky said.

Questions regarding plans for the 2020-21 school year can be directed to the school district at: info@santeesd.net or by calling (619) 258-2304.