Del Norte Unified Takes Blended Approach to Blended Learnin…

Del Norte Unified Takes Blended Approach to Blended Learnin…

Jessica Cejnar /
@ 3:10 p.m. /


Del Norte Unified Takes Blended Approach to Blended Learning Model; Whether It’ll Work Is Still Uncertain

Mary Peacock Elementary School principal Lara Hirt welcomes her students at the start of the 2019-20 school year. File photo: Jessica Cejnar

Trustees with the Del Norte Unified School District decided on a Phase 3 blended learning model Tuesday that would have students in a classroom part time and engaging in distance learning when they’re not at school.

This may not be the model students and parents will encounter when the summer break is over on Aug. 24. Trustees have yet to decide whether schools will reopen for even small student cohorts in the fall.

They and administrators must also determine if their blended learning plan will work since its components differ based how grades are structured at each school.

Full distance learning will be an option for families uncomfortable with sending their students to school, however.

“With conflicting guidance coming from the federal government, from the state government, we don’t know what we will be allowed to do on Aug. 24,” Superintendent Jeff Harris said. “I don’t think anyone would argue that if we were able to remove COVID-19 from the equation, that the best place for kids to learn is in school with their peers in front of their teachers every day getting the services they need. However, we have to put COVID into the situation because that’s the reality of where we are and we have to understand the restrictions under which we function.”

Trustees voted 4-1 in favor of their blended learning model. Jamie Forkner, who represents Del Norte County District 5 — which includes Klamath — dissented, saying she and her colleagues should make a determination “so people can move forward and not delay it another month.”

Trustees decided to implement a “2-day on, 3-day off” plan for DNUSD’s K-8 schools and Crescent Elk Middle School. Students at Smith River, Redwood and Mountain schools and Crescent Elk will be in the classroom with teachers for two days during the week and will learn remotely the other three days of the week.

The classes will be split with half the students coming to school for the first two days of the week and the other half interacting with teachers the other two days of the week.

Trustees will look into whether an am-pm model can be adopted at the K-5 schools in the Crescent City area and at Margaret Keating Elementary School in Klamath. In this blended learning model, students will be divvied up into morning and afternoon cohorts, though the ability for transportation to adequately serve students is uncertain.

“If it turns out not to be feasible for transportation we can always go back to the 2-on, 3-off,” said District 4 Trustee Charlaine Mazzei, who made the motion Tuesday.

During her motion, Mazzei also proposed letting Del Norte High School come up with a blended learning model that works for them.

“That makes sense for their learning environment because it’s different from everything else,” Mazzei said, adding that the district may also have to make exceptions for special needs students.

Tom Kissinger, DNUSD’s assistant superintendent of educational services, said those exceptions would apply to English language learners, special education students, foster and homeless youth and others who are in “at-risk populations.”

Safety Measures and Phases
On Thursday, Harris presented trustees with the results of a parent and staff survey on their preferences for reopening Del Norte schools. He also discussed the proposed reopening phases based on California’s progress on its “Resilience Roadmap” ranging from a full distance learning model to allowing students to fully return to schools, though distance learning would still be available.

On Tuesday, Harris referenced Assembly Bill 98, a budget trailer bill that defines distance learning. Under that bill, daily learning must include daily contact, high-quality curriculum and supports for special education students and English-language learners.

Harris also explained the different reopening phases DNUSD must deal with. Phase 1 would have all students engaged in distance learning. Under phase 2, small groups of students who need specific support could receive in-person education.

Phase 3 is the blended learning model trustees were asked Tuesday to adopt. DNUSD would enter Phase 4 once Governor Gavin Newsom’s March 19 stay-at-home order is completely lifted, Harris said.

“We’re not asking the board to say here’s how we’re opening,” he said. “We’re saying we truly believe, this is the model that best meets the needs of our kids … that is going to be malleable, changeable enough so we can adapt blended learning to whatever guidance is (coming) either from the California Department of Public Health or from the local public health officer.”

Del Norte County’s public health officer, Dr. Warren Rehwaldt, said a significant safety measure has to do with the concept of cohorts — keeping students within small functional stable groups. Urging students to wear face coverings and implementing proper social distancing are also important precautions, Rehwaldt said, though he recognized that’s not always possible in some school situations.

Rehwaldt said he and other public health officials expect students will transmit the novel coronavirus to others, but the goal is to keep that transmission low. Those most at risk for serious illness are staff, parents and grandparents, he said.

“We expect kids are going to be bringing this virus to school. We expect kids are going to take it home from school sometimes,” Rehwaldt said, adding that children are often asymptomatic or “minimally symptomatic” from COVID-19. “We want to keep those transmissions contained as best we can within a small group makes it much easier for us to identify and do case investigation and contact tracing from a public health standpoint.”

As for testing at school sites, Rehwaldt said the county could test small numbers of people for COVID-19 with its resources. But to test an entire school site would take a site similar to the community testing site at Del Norte High School, he said. Rehwaldt said Del Norte County also has to decide whether it wants to continue to contract with Verily as a testing service or meet the community’s testing requirements on its own.

Rehwaldt also spoke to the lag in testing time, saying that it took two weeks for his own COVID-19 results to come back. For some people, test results can be had in about 3-4 days, he said. The fastest time a community like Del Norte County can hope for is likely 48 hours, Rehwaldt said.

Transportation, nutrition, sanitizing
Before COVID-19 about 700 students rode the bus to and from school, according to Harris. That statistic, which makes up about 25 percent of the district’s enrollment, still stands.

In an am/pm blended learning model, DNUSD would only be able to offer transportation to about 75 percent of those 700 students, Harris said. The ability to transport students would be more limited in the morning than in the afternoon.

“If we did am/pm and only focused on providing transportation for K-8 (students) the worst-case scenario is we have to…

Moving & Transportation Services CEO Jonathan Cartu

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