Lake Elsinore Unified families will be surveyed on their preferences for multiple different plans for a partial return to in-person classes, ahead of a meeting of the district’s board of trustees Oct. 22 where reopening plans for elementary, middle and high school students will be voted upon.
District officials presented six different reopening plans — three for elementary school students and two for middle school students and just one for high school students — at LEUSD’s Oct. 8 virtual board meeting on Zoom.
It was at times a contentious meeting, with several parents calling for a speedier return to in-person learning during the meeting’s public comment section. One viewer, perhaps having forgotten to mute herself, even interjected to express her apparent displeasure with the length of the reopening presentations, exclaiming nearly two hours into the meeting: “you guys are the most efficient people on this planet, I swear.”
Despite the wishes of some to head back to classrooms as soon as possible, officials said they were not certain when LEUSD would be able to move into “phase two” of restarting classes in a hybrid distance learning and in-person format.
The fact that part-time in-person learning is even a possibility to be discussed is a result of the fact that Riverside County dropped from the most-restrictive purple tier in the state’s coronavirus reopening plan to the less-restrictive red tier on Sept. 22.
Schools in Riverside County were able to reopen with health restrictions after 14 days out of the purple tier, a milestone that came Oct. 6, the same day as the meeting. However, based on health data released on Oct. 6, the county faces the risk of falling back into the purple tier next week.
Riverside County’s coronavirus positivity rate as of Oct. 6 of 5% falls in the red tier, but the county’s case rate has ticked up to 6.8 positive cases per 100,000 people, which the state adjusted to 7.6 cases per 100,000 due to the county’s lower-than-average rate of testing. Seven positive cases per 100,000 is the benchmark for moving back into the purple tier, and the county will be re-designated in that tier if it has similar numbers of positive cases by the time the state issues its next report on county case rates, which is scheduled for Oct. 13.
Because of the possibility of Riverside County reverting to the purple tier, LEUSD Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Support Services Tracy Sepulveda said “we are unsure when we will return to phase two, but we do acknowledge that we must be prepared.”
Sepulveda said there are three things the district will need to know before it can decide on which models to use for beginning to reopen when the matter is discussed on Oct. 22: the results of a survey of parents’ preferences, the number of students wishing to remain in distance learning and the number of staff wishing to continue with distance learning and working.
Rita Post, director of elementary education and instruction, presented the three choices parents will be surveyed on for elementary schools.
Each of the plans for elementary students is an “a.m.-p.m.” cohort model, in which one group of students will be sent to school in the morning and another will attend school in the afternoon, minimizing the number of students on campus at any given time. Students will still participate in a period of asynchronous learning — that is, learning that does not take place in real-time with an instructor — during the part of the day when they are not on campus.
The schedule would allow a transition time between the two groups of students, giving teachers a 30-minute lunch and a 30-minute “prep” period, as well as allowing for classrooms to be cleaned and disinfected.
This first option would have most students be phased in to the a.m.-p.m. model from their current all-online learning model over a four-week period, with two grade levels starting each week, according to Post.
This learning model would allow 150 minutes per day of synchronous learning with an instructor for transitional kindergarten, kindergarten and 1st grade students, and 145 minutes per day for higher grade levels.
There would be no lunch or recess, though students would, depending on their cohort time, collect either their lunch for the current day or for the next day after they leave class.
The second option is precisely the same except for the timing — students would be phased into part-time in-person classes over seven weeks instead of four, with one grade level returning each week.
Both of the first two options would have staggered start and stop times so that not all students would be coming and going from campus at the same time.
The third option would lower the amount of synchronous learning time to 120 minutes, and would not have staggered start and stop times.
All three options would enable students to be on campus for a portion of the day for all five days of the school week.
Steve Behar, director of child welfare and attendance, presented two models for middle school students’ return to campuses.
The first is a morning block schedule, in which students are divided into two groups and come to campus two days a week.
The first group would attend class periods 1,4 and 6 on Monday mornings and periods 2,4 and 6 on Tuesday mornings, while the second group would instead attend those classes on Thursdays and Fridays, with Wednesdays being a distance learning day for all students.
Students would attend about 80 minute class periods and be off campus by about noon, Behar said, allowing ample time in the afternoon to clean and sanitize desks and classrooms. Students would also have a 45 minute period of asynchronous learning after they leave campus.
The second option would be for students to attend classes in a “three-by-three” block schedule, in which students would only attend three different classes for an entire quarter, and attend three more classes the next quarter, rather than attend six classes simultaneously.
This model would be closer to the elementary a.m.-p.m. model, with one group attending classes in the morning and the other in the afternoon, five days per week.
In this model, students would have approximately 47-minute class periods, then would have another 90 minutes of asynchronous learning, or 30 minutes per class, before or after they leave campus, depending on their cohort group.
The gap between morning and afternoon students would last from about 10:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Behar said, allowing an hour and fifteen minutes for cleaning of classrooms.
One large potential drawback to this plan, according to LEUSD Assistant Superintendent of Administrative and Instructional Technology Support Services Alain Guevara, is that it may leave students liable to forgetting information between ending one course and starting a new one in the same subject.
“With only three courses per quarter, one of the cons could be that the students would lack the necessary skills, because if I have algebra 1st period and it’s in the third quarter,” Guevara said, “I may not remember that material in the following fall when I need to apply for the next sequential level of math because I haven’t had it for the whole year, I’ve only had it for that period of time.”
Brian Deis, director of secondary curriculum, instruction and assessment for LEUSD, presented only one part-time reopening plan for high school students, although he said others would be shared with the board before a final decision is made.
We have been working … with a group of administrators from our three comprehensive high schools as well as teachers and a counselor from those same high schools and as we have been progressing through this and reviewing different schedules we’ve been trying to keep in mind obviously the restrictions we have in place from the health department but also what we’re hearing from our teachers, what we’re hearing from our students and what we’re hearing from our parents,” Deis said. “The one I would like to show today amongst the ones that are going to be shared with the board is very similar to what the middle school is looking at at sample two, and that’s a three-by-three block schedule.”
Deis said in that plan, high school students would, just as in the middle school plan three-by-three plan, have three classes per quarter instead of six, attending classes in either an a.m. or p.m. cohort.
Class would start Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 7:30 a.m. and end at 10:25 a.m. for morning students, and start at 11:35 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. on those days for afternoon students.
Class periods will last about 55 minutes, Deis said.
Just as in the other a.m.-p.m. plans, students will take part in asynchronous learning during the part of the day when they are not on campus, with about 25 minutes of asynchronous class time for each period, or 75 minutes total per day.
On Wednesdays, morning students would not arrive until 8:45 a.m, compressing the schedule for the day.
As with the other a.m.-p.m. plans, students would grab their lunches for the current or following day while leaving school, depending on their cohort.
District officials said students who wish to continue in a distance learning format will be able to do so.
LEUSD’s board will vote on the various reopening plans Oct. 22.
Will Fritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.