Message From The Superintendent
September 16, 2020
Dear Sylvan District Families and Staff,
At last night’s Board of Trustees meeting, I had the opportunity to update Board members and the public regarding the status of safely reopening schools in the Sylvan District. The purpose of this letter is to ensure that all of our valued stakeholders are kept informed of our efforts to return to in-person learning.
As you know, we anticipated starting the 2020-21 school year with in-person learning for all students according to the health and safety guidelines. However, these plans were interrupted due to the increase of community spread within our county and the Governor’s mandate in mid-July to suspend in-person learning in counties considered to be on the “watch list.” Part of Governor Newsom’s mandate included the option to file an application for a TK-6 Grade waiver in the event that COVID-positive rates decreased according to the state’s threshold. At that time, school districts in Stanislaus County were not eligible to pursue a waiver for reopening schools for in-person instruction. Recently, the positivity rates in our county have dropped to a level that now allows for Districts to file TK-6 Grade waivers to be considered for approval by both local and state public health officials.
Sylvan staff is currently working to complete the Elementary School Waiver Application and reopening plans. It is important to note that the waiver application requirements are rigorous and entail a great deal of planning in each of the following areas:
Cohorts of students
Entrance/egress and movement on campus
Health screenings for students and staff
Face coverings and other essential equipment
Staff training and family education
Healthy hygiene practices
Identification and tracing of contacts
Triggers for pivoting to distance learning
Although the district had previously addressed several of these requirements in our earlier work centered on the fall reopening plans, health and safety guidelines have been revised or newly released and several components have many hurdles to overcome in a district of our size.
One of the components of the waiver application is to engage in consultation with our labor partners and parent community. We began this process with our labor partners this week, and we have been engaging with a variety of stakeholder groups through the Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan process which included surveys and stakeholder forums for gathering input related to distance learning and the return to in-person instruction.
We will present a draft of the Elementary School Waiver Application and our reopening plans at the next Board of Trustees meeting to be held on Tuesday, September 29, at 6:00 p.m. with the intent to file the waiver the following day with the Stanislaus County Public Health Department. The Stanislaus County Health Officer will review the application and the reopening plan, and if the waiver application is complete, it will be submitted to the California Department of Public Health for a decision to grant or deny the waiver. A copy of each school district’s waiver and the approval status for districts in Stanislaus County is available on the Stanislaus County Office of Education website.
If the waiver is approved, District staff will present our reopening plans to the Board of Trustees. In their Governance role, the Board will take action to determine the specific grades to return, daily/weekly instructional schedules, and the timeline for reopening.
In addition to the waiver application process, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) recently issued guidance to address in-person learning opportunities for special education students, homeless/foster youth, and English learners who may be experiencing challenges to successfully engaging in a distance learning model. This additional guidance is intended to be implemented separately from the waiver process. Plans to provide targeted support for specific student groups are in development and include many of the same components described above in the waiver process. Within the next few weeks, we will initiate steps for identified student groups to participate in limited, small group in-person learning opportunities. Families will be notified if their child is eligible for participation.
Let me close by thanking you for your patience as staff has taken the time necessary to thoroughly analyze and plan for the reopening of our classrooms and campuses. We also want to acknowledge that we recognize the challenges presented during this period of prolonged school closure and the impact on students, staff, and families. We look forward to the time when health and safety conditions allow for us to welcome you back to school.
Please continue to take good care.