No elementary waiver, but TVUSD’s McClay says in-person learning may be able to resume soon

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Jodi McClay, superintendent of Temecula Valley Unified, addresses the district’s board of education, Tuesday, Sept. 15. Valley News/Temecula Valley Unified School District photo

Schools in Riverside County remain unable to open for in-person instruction, but Jodi McClay, superintendent of Temecula Valley Unified School District, said there are some promising metrics to indicate that may be allowed very soon.

Speaking at the district Board of Education’s Sept. 15 meeting, McClay said the county is moving in the right direction for in-person learning to resume.

At the time of the meeting, Riverside County’s coronavirus test positivity rate had fallen to 7.8% – below the threshold of 8% at which the county could move from the “purple” tier of the state’s reopening framework into the “red” tier in which schools can reopen. However, the county’s daily case rate at the time was reported as being 8.6 new cases per 100,000 residents.

A day after the meeting, the county’s positivity rate fell even further to 6.4%, and its new case rate fell to an “adjusted” rate of 6.7 new cases per 100,000 residents, below the threshold for the “red” tier. It means if Riverside County maintains those numbers for two weeks, schools can start to reopen.

However, McClay also said the district will not be able to move forward with obtaining a waiver to reopen in-person elementary instruction in the short term, and that it may be better to wait until Riverside County has moved into the “red” tier to reopen all schools.

McClay said in her presentation to board members that she acknowledged the sensitivity of the topic and did not want to be perceived as attempting to sway anyone’s opinion but merely was presenting the facts as they were known.

“I do want to reiterate and remind folks that in no way am I trying to dissuade everyone,” McClay said. “I would absolutely love to open our schools safely, but I do think it is important for everyone to know what the waiver means because getting one does not mean that school will be normal again, in fact, sadly, it will be far from it.”

The TVUSD board had previously given authorization Sept. 1, to move forward with planning a waiver application for submission to the county Department of Public Health. The next step after that was to reach out to district stakeholders including the faculty union – and the district found mixed responses when it did that outreach, McClay said.

“We’ve done that; we do not have the support; therefore, we really can’t move forward with the waiver,” she said.

McClay said in a survey that was completed by 84% of TVUSD’s elementary faculty, 48% voted that they were uncomfortable with reopening under a waiver, 41% voted that they were comfortable and 11% voted that they were unsure.

About a third of those who voted “no” cited concerns over the proposed reopening model, which would have been a hybrid model of in-person and virtual instruction; another third said they preferred to return when traditional schooling is permitted and a final third cited health and safety concerns, according to McClay.

“The other item that came up really in so many of the survey comments is that teachers and staff simply have to feel safe,” McClay said. “This is a basic human need, and it does not exist right now enough for the adults who would be required to be on campuses. In fact, if they don’t feel safe, the quality of the teaching and learning would be poor at best.”

While the waiver process cannot continue without support from faculty, McClay said representatives from the Temecula Valley Educators Association indicated they are open to continuing conversations.

McClay also said the district is taking advantage of the state’s authorization for specialized, in-person support for small “hubs” of students.

TVUSD, she said, was able to start four different cohorts of four students each at Crowne Hill Elementary School and Temecula Valley High School, in which two adults for each cohort provide supervision while the students participate in online learning. All of the students in the cohorts are English-language learners who do not have internet service at home, she said.

McClay said the first four cohorts were essentially the district’s “pilot” programs, and the district will continue to establish more moving forward.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.