TVUSD to explore return to full-time learning, online-only instruction or hybrid option

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Temecula Valley Unified School District board members meet virtually, June 9.

The Temecula Valley Unified School District Governing Board at its June 9 meeting directed district leaders to continue planning for three possibilities of how instruction will look in the fall: full-time online learning, a return to traditional in-school learning or a hybrid model that’s somewhere in between.

Before beginning a discussion on how to move forward, the board heard a presentation from outgoing Superintendent Timothy Ritter, soon-to-be Superintendent (and current deputy superintendent) Jodi McClay and other district staff on parent surveys and “think tank” meetings the district has conducted to analyze options for restarting classes in the 2020-2021 school year after the previous year was brought to an abrupt end by the coronavirus pandemic.

In surveying parents, the district found nearly two-thirds of families support returning to traditional full-time, in-school instruction, while about 12% favor online-only instruction in the fall, an 27% support a hybrid of online and in-school instruction.

Ritter said TVUSD looked at what other school districts in the region are planning,

Murrieta Valley Unified is looking into all three potential modes of instruction — all-online, all-in-person and hybrid. Meanwhile, Lake Elsinore Unified, Ritter said, is investigating only a hybrid and an online-only model, while Menifee Union is attempting to return to all-in-person classes but is preparing itself to implement a hybrid model if necessary.

Remember, one of the issues we have here is this is a public health issue, it’s not really an educational issue,” Ritter told the board. “County Public Health had the authority to make the call in terms of what districts could and couldn’t do. It was their call.”

An order from Riverside County’s public health officer to close all schools is expected to expire June 19, but the possibility always remains that, should coronavirus cases worsen locally, further orders will come down.

Staff members from four different “think tanks” of TVUSD educators looked into four options: reopening in the fall with little to no changes but with the possibility of distance learning later; offering a choice for students to return as normal or to remain in a distance-learning environment for anyone uncomfortable with in-person classes for the time being; preparing for no students returning in the fall and beginning the year in an online-only format; and preparing for a hybrid model in which students could be mandated or volunteer for partial in-school learning and partial online learning.

McClay told the board members that staff essentially was seeking direction on which of two different paths to take: pursue planning on three instruction plans, including in-person learning, a blended model or online-only ; or only pursuing a cohort model (two days in class and three days at home) and an online-only modell.

McClay stressed that any plan for returning to full-time, in-classroom learning “does not meet the current standards for social distancing within a classroom,” although there are currently no actual mandated rules for classroom learning in the fall, only recommendations.

“We don’t believe we can get to that on a full-time model,” McClay said. “We do believe, however that we could implement some modifications that do help with social distancing in the classrooms.”

She said that would be easiest to do at the elementary level, where the district can plan to try and keep students primarily within their classrooms, but would be more difficult for middle and high schools.

McClay also said that while a return to full-time, in-classroom learning would be the closest thing to a return to normal, there is really no way to 100% get everything back to the old normal.

“We do believe that when we come back, regardless of what it looks like, there will be changes, there will be new challenges,” McClay told the board. “We’ve had students out of school for nine weeks.”

There will, she said, be academic gaps as well as social and emotional problems resulting from the sudden cancellation of school and whatever problems that may have caused for families.

“Even though we want to say it will be as close to normal as possible, we all need to acknowledge there will be some new normals even if we were to come back tomorrow with everything looking the same,” McClay said.

She also said any online learning that takes place will look very different from the “distance learning” that was implemented to close out the last school year, in which students were graded on a “hold harmless” policy — essentially an extra-credit-only policy after in-person classes ended in March.

“This would be very different, the same rigorous standards going on in this classroom as there would be in our traditional classroom settings,” McClay said. “Students would be required to attend, required to participate, there would be grades, so very, very different and far more intense.”

She also said there would be some kind of social and emotional support for students regardless of the learning plan or plans the district eventually implements.

While the board ultimately settled on continuing to explore all three options, Board Member Lee Darling expressed skepticism of how a hybrid or blended model of learning would work.

“My thought, I have a student who’s going to be going to school in the fall now for the first time ever and we’re either gonna allow our kid to go to school or we’re not,” Darling said. “To me, I don’t know if there’s gonna be a big difference between, I’m gonna send my kid to school with 15 students in the class versus 20 or 25.”

Board Member Julie Farnbach also initially said she didn’t see, particularly for elementary schools, how a blended or online-only model would work.

“I think for me, as a mom, I would only do full traditional for elementary,” Farnbach said. “I would not try to break them up unless we got a government mandate down the road where we had to go to cohort. I don’t know how you could do elementary online or split. It’s not emotionally health, it’s not physically healthy, it’s not realistic.”

Ritter gave the board his thoughts, saying he initially would not have supported a hybrid model but was forced to reconsider after looking at the district’s survey results.

“We don’t know what each family dynamic is and what they need, and my concern is if we didn’t provide the option, do we stand the risk that there’s 5,000 families out there somewhere that are looking for another program, because we’re not providing the program that they need right now?” Ritter said. “I was of the mindset that you just come in and you do the two models, but looking at the data and what we have now, I’m concerned that might have been shortsighted on my part, because obviously we have families right now that see value in that hybrid model.”

By the end, the board was mostly in agreement on looking at traditional instruction, hybrid and online-only learning, with Board Member Kristi Rutz-Robbins being the only one opposed to continuing to explore a normal, in-classroom plan, and even then only marginally.

“I actually prefer hybrid and online, because i think it’s safer in the long-run for maintaining continuity this year given covid, but i’m willing to accept a return to full time as long as we (have) the hybrid option,” Rutz-Robbins said.

The board will continue to receive updates on district staff’s progress on planning for each model.

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