Superintendent Kelley presents update on start to MVUSD school year

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Patrick Kelley, superintendent of Murrieta Valley Unified School District, shows a slide regarding the distance learning model that the district will begin the 2020-2021 school year with Friday, Aug. 14. Valley News/Courtesy photo

During a Murrieta Valley Unified School District board of education special meeting Wednesday, July 29, district superintendent Patrick Kelley gave the board an update on the planned start to the 2020-2021 school year.

“Since we last met 12 days ago, things have changed incredibly around the state of California,” Kelley said via a teleconference call. “I want to remind everybody that school is starting on Friday, Aug. 14, and school will be starting in a virtual manner.

“This was not a decision that you made or was a decision that is within your purview at this time. On July 17, shortly after our last meeting, the governor issued an order that all districts residing and counties that are on the watch list, that’s at least 32 counties within the state of California and it represents close to 95% of all students in the state of California, must begin the year with a distance learning format,” he said.

Kelly addressed a question that many parents are asking of the district regarding a note on the governor’s executive order that indicates that a waiver would be made available for in-person instruction.

“The current status of that is unknown, and the California Department of Public Health and Riverside County Public Health Department has not identified how this waiver process will work at this time but we will be watching very closely taking a look at what the rules of this are the feasibility of applying for a waiver and then we will certainly assess,” Kelley said. “I would remind you that our goals are the same, we have the spirit of wanting to open our schools but opening our school as quickly as we can when it’s safe and when it’s moved to do.

“All those pieces of the puzzle don’t always come together in the time frame that we want and we wish but we are looking at those things very closely and so we will absolutely be assessing this waiver process once it’s established by the state and the county,” he said.

Kelley also talked a little about how distance learning will be put into action in the next few weeks, though he did not share the details of the entire plan, Kelley promised that more information would be coming from school sites in the coming week.

“What I need to remind everybody is that when on March 13 we went from school to distance learning, this was a very fast and quick response to a worldwide global pandemic,” Kelley said. “This fall will not look like the past spring in regards to what virtual learning or distance learning will look like. In this new model in the fall, there will be daily live instruction and interactions with teachers and other students. Rigorous state standards will be in place and will be equivalent to in-person instruction.”

Kelley said there will be progress reports and grades given, required daily attendance, required daily instructional minutes, as well as academic and other supports for all students.

Kelley promised that all students would have access to devices and connectivity.

“One of the most important things going on right now is that our students are given access to the tools that are needed to be able to access their education,” he said. “It’s important to note that we have the devices available so all students will need a device and for those students who need to borrow a device – that will not be a problem. Those will be passed out from the school sites with communication coming from (those sites). Families will also be able to give us feedback on their ability with internet connectivity issues and will work with families one-on-one in that situation.”

Kelley said schools will be contacting students in the next week to begin addressing those issues.

He also addressed the issue of CIF sports and athletics.

“On July 20, CIF announced that high school sports for the fall would be delayed until at least December,” Kelley said. “It is important to note that those practices right now are calendared and seasons to begin no sooner than Dec. 14. But I really want to offer this caution. This is the best guess that CIF is making right now and we’ll see if those dates continue on. But it’s important to note that this is the calendar established by the governing authority that governs high school sports and as such this is the calendar that we fall under at this time. There is no ability to hold practices, training, conditioning, those types of things – they are not allowed by public health order at this time.”

Kelley concluded his presentation with recognition of how much of a change it will be starting the school year with distance learning.

“This is a sea change,” he said. “In regards to how it’s structured and going to be delivered for families, and we want it to be as successful as possible. What our parents should be expecting, starting next week, is receiving a series of informational communications and some in video format to show exactly how you can make virtual instruction as successful and positive for their child. Those are being developed right now but it’s one of the important things that we want to make sure we’re doing so that all kids and the families as a unit can be successful in this regard.

“We will be continuing on with greater information for our families beginning next week,” Kelley said.

The board also unanimously approved the second reading and adoption of the new board policy pertaining to the district’s COVID-19 Mitigation Plan which establishes actions that will be taken by the district to provide a safe learning and working environment during the coronavirus pandemic.

The policy will supersede any conflicting language in existing district policies or administrative regulations until the governing board determines that the need for this policy no longer exists.

According to the document, “The board acknowledges that, due to the evolving nature of the pandemic, federal, state and local orders impacting district operations are subject to change without notice. In the event that any federal, state, or local order may conflict with this policy, the order shall govern.”

The board also unanimously approved the personnel report regarding new hires within the district, approved a contract in the amount of $231,000 to Reed Family Enterprises for housing at Murrieta Elementary School and heard a presentation about the district’s systematic short and long-term equity plans with a focus on “boldly and aggressively advocating for justice and equity for students, parents and staff.”

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.