HUSD board discusses learning continuity and attendance

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Diane Sieker photo

The Hemet Unified School District held a public hearing on the proposed 2020-2021 Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan at its regularly scheduled board meeting Tuesday, Sept. 1. The meeting was available to the public on YouTube through an audio livestream and questions from the public submitted remotely.

Christi Barrett, superintendent of HUSD, and the district cabinet gave an update on staff exposure to COVID-19, athletics, special education and district connectivity.

Barrett read the statements submitted for public comments.

Emily Hulstrom, teacher and parent, addressed the board to request that the district apply for the TK-5 waiver to return students to the classroom.

Parent Matthew Houghton addressed the board requesting students return to the classroom.

Michelle Nealeigh, president of CSEA Chapter 104, addressed the board regarding classified staff returning to work and thanked administrators for their support in improving food distribution.

Alex Ballard, director of assessments and accountability, gave an overview of the Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hemet Unified School District closed schools throughout the district, beginning Friday, March 13. Health orders from the governor and Riverside County public health caused the HUSD to transition to an “at-home” instructional model for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

For the 2020-2021 school year, the state of California enacted a budget that provided significant resources for a more robust learning model compared to the previous spring.

The additional resources were directed to support the engagement of students and families, to target and address the loss of learning caused by the disruption of schools and to address the mental health and nutritional needs of students.

The Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan, or Learning CAP, is designed to provide a targeted summary of how preexisting and COVID-19 specific resources are blended to address students’ needs as well as the detrimental effects induced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

HUSD educates over 21,000 students, and many students did not have internet access or devices. During the closure, the district continued to address the nutritional needs of students by providing opportunities for families to pick up food. Families often rely on the district for mental health services, health and vision services, parenting classes and more.

Teachers who had not taught in an online format were asked to connect with students and families via the internet. Grading policies changed to reflect the new learning environment. HUSD needed to address these concerns through increased teacher training, stakeholder outreach, collaboration with associations and changes in policy.

Athletic events were canceled, end of year celebrations and graduations were revised to take place virtually or not at all. With all students learning from home, some parents searched for new child care options.

The information provided in the Learning CAP reflects HUSD’s response to these impacts.

The process of reopening schools for the 2020-2021 school year was driven by the uncertainty of public health mandates in a highly condensed time frame.

In the late spring, the district began significant planning efforts and conducted several parent surveys. Based on emerging information from state and local authorities, influenced by parent feedback after March 13, the district convened work groups composed of teachers, administrators and classified employees who began building instructional and operational plans which applied to several reopening scenarios.

Survey Feedback Structures, Parent Advisory Meetings, Association Focus Group Meetings and Community Partners informed the actions of these plans.

Family surveys gathered information on the barriers associated with distance learning and parental concerns. Safety, interest in a full-time, online educational option and internet and device connectivity were addressed.

As the reopening plan evolved, the following priorities were identified: instruction would ensure continuity of learning with a high-quality program for all student; wellness would prioritize the need to address mental health, social and emotional development of all students, staff and community; technology would reinforce the need to prepare staff and students for learning in a digital context as well as the need to adequately provide the necessary resources; facilities and operations would ensure the safety of students and staff in any one of the learning settings from online learning, to a hybrid context, as well as return to a fulltime in learning context and human resources would accommodate the need for flexibility in the roles of staff, represented in an agreement between the district and the classified association where staff are adapting to new roles.

Hemet Unified School District’s plan for the stages of reopening of the schools is based on the following principles: instruction – ensuring continuity of learning with high quality instruction designed geared to the method of delivery; wellness – addressing the mental needs and social emotional learning of students; technology – providing training to staff and students in order to leverage device and internet access to the greatest extent possible; facilities – ensure that all working and learning spaces are prepared and reflect the highest priority of safety; operations – ensure process and practices align the learning needs of students and ensure safety and protection of all and human resources – ensure the human resources strategically and efficiently support the operations of the district.

In each school site’s schedule, both synchronous and asynchronous learning take place daily, using the same board-approved curriculum in all classes that would be used for in-person instruction. All content areas would be available in PDF form and accessible from at-home devices, which had been issued to all students in the district before the beginning of school.

Additionally, online resources and instructional lesson plans were presented during the two weeks of professional development available to all teachers.

Material packets were given to all elementary students that included school supplies that they would need, such as pencils, paper, rulers, sight word packets and crayons, when participating in online learning.

The goal was to make any transition from in-person to online learning seamless and that instruction continue with consistency regardless of the instructional setting

The HUSD recognized the need for access to devices and connectivity. Surveys and follow-up communications were sent out to families to assess the number of devices needed to fill the needs of students and acquire them in time for testing and summer school in the spring and summer of 2020.

Every student in the Hemet Unified School District received a Chromebook, and those students who did not have access to connectivity were given hot spots, which they picked them up at their respective schools. In addition, all teachers were given the technology necessary to deliver instruction online.

In addition, the district opened a number of internet cafes in the district’s most remote areas. Several schools are in outlying mountain areas, and families needed this support.

“We are off to a good start with distance learning so far,” Megan Haley, president of the HUSD governing board, said. “For our outlying schools we are working with ConnectAnza to push families to the front of the install list so our students can get internet. We are awaiting more Verizon hot spots for families that need connectivity.”

All HUSD board meetings since March have been available to the public on YouTube through an audio livestream. The link is available on the district website, and hard copies of the agenda are posted at the district office with directions on how to access the audio livestream.

For more information, visit the HUSD online at https://www.hemetusd.org/ or call 951-765-5100.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.