The Escondido United School Board met on January 21 to review parent and teacher comments and a variety of information to consider continuing with a preponderance of distance learning or reopening to in-class instruction, tentatively set for February 2, using the district’s hybrid protocols.
EUSD Superintendent Dr. Luis Rankin-Ibarra said he had been hoping to find “trends” in the available data but the result of this review was “inconclusive,” and the board made no decision on reopening.
The board will meet again this week (January 28) for further consideration and data review – the recent decline in community infections and Governor Newsom’s announcement of reopening opportunities likely to be part of the discussion.
Somewhat more than 30 statements by parents and teachers were read to the board at the January 21 meeting. The heated wording of some of those statements suggests that the board probably won’t please everyone in deciding whether or not — or even when — to reopen.
On one side, the majority of statements from parents offered harsh negative critiques of the district’s current reliance on distance learning; but the comments from teachers generally highlighted the health risks of reopening and encouraged a delay to in-class instruction. This, one said, would avoid the difficulties and stress if resulting in another U-turn to the virtual teaching method.
Besides debating the importance and impact of the rates of virus cases and infection, another issue raised was the willingness of district teachers to return to in-class instruction. A statement by one parent suggested that the virtual instruction approach essentially offered a 10-month “paid vacation” for district teachers. Another said that the board was “beholden” to the EEEA teacher’s union
But Brandi Krepps, a teacher at Hidden Valley elementary school and vice president of the EEEA teachers’ union, said that the pandemic had required the entire instructional staff to work “ten times harder” over the past several months. She was especially critical of a statement by a board member — made at the previous board meeting — suggesting that district reopening would result in a blue-flu “sick-out,” meaning teachers refusing to show up for work. She called this “unfounded and irrational.”
The district’s zip code areas have all been in the Purple Tier – meaning the highest level of new infections. Within the schools, one graphic stated 155 total cases (36 in infectious state) in December, and 114 total cases (7 in infectious state) so far in January, including both staff and students. A total of 38 staff members were reported currently in quarantine.
Other graphs provided to board members presented additional student data. There was about a 100% increase in student absences compared to the previous year. As to report-card grades, there was generally a lower number of A, B and C grades; the number of D grades not greatly changed; and a higher number of F grades.
Rankins-Ibarra said that he is working with the district’s Design Team to develop ways to deal with and mitigate the learning loss indicated by the declines.
Additionally, in preparation for eventual return to in-class instruction, about 50% of the new air filtration systems being purchased by the district have been reported installed in the schools, and 100% by the end of January. The district is also sending out employment documentation letters to assist with the paper work needed to obtain vaccination.
An administrator also reviewed newly revised state guidelines concerning school safety procedures.