HOLTVILLE — Holtville students and educators will soon be resuming morning classes remotely as the threat of the coronavirus pandemic persists past summer vacation.
“We are excited to see our students, even though it will have to be online,” said Anthony Arevalo, principal for Holtville High School.
Some local parents had hoped the Holtville Unified School District would begin classes with students on campus. However, due to high rates of COVID infections in Imperial County, all schools throughout the county will be starting the fall with distance learning in place as mandated by the state, according to a letter released by the Holtville district in late July.
“When the governor ordered we distance learn for the start of the school year, it let us know what direction to go in our planning,” explained Arevalo.
Online classes in Holtville Unified schools starts Aug. 17.
Imperial County was among the California counties on the state’s monitoring list ordered by Gov. Gavin Newsom to continue with distance learning until the county has been removed from the list for a period of 14 consecutive days. At that time, schools will be permitted to provide in-person instruction subject to comprehensive guidance and health and safety requirements, stated Dr. Stephen Munday, Imperial County Public Health officer, and Todd Finnell, Imperial County Superintendent of Schools, in a joint statement released mid-July.
“Distance learning, it’s very similar to learning in the classroom,” said Arevalo. “There are differences, but they are cut from the same cloth to some extent.”
Although an abrupt form of distance learning was implemented in late March for the spring school year, the upcoming fall session is expected to differ for many schools given specific guidelines and expectations issued by the state on how schools operate their distance learning, according to Holtville Unified’s letter.
In accordance with the state, a minimum amount of instructional time for different grade levels has been directed, with three hours instructed for transitional kindergarten and kindergarten, three hours and 50 minutes advised for grades first through third, and four hours expected for all other grades.
“One big shift this fall will be that (all high schoolers) will experience live online classes with their teachers,” Arevalo said. “They’ll also have the same amount of class periods; they will just be 30 minutes each.”
These minimum time frames will include both live interaction between teachers and students, as well as homework and independent learning, according to the release. Holtville High students’ school schedule will generally include live interactive lessons in the morning, a break for lunch, followed by independent homework with teacher consultation time available in the afternoon if necessary.
“It’s our hope that by starting live online classes in the morning, it will give our students, teachers and community a sense of normalcy,” said Arevalo.
In contrast from March, which saw the state provide schools with very few parameters, this fall session will require schools to keep students actively engaged in their education while ensuring they monitor student attendance during live interactive lessons and through the completion of homework in order to receive state funding for the upcoming school year.
“It’s a big shift, but live classes should still be able to allow teachers to show presentations, call on non-volunteers, check on students’ understanding and have them write and turn in assignments,” explained Arevalo.
Holtville Unified officials also stated they would do their best to help parents and students with “extenuating circumstances” and have asked parents to contact their childrens’ teacher or principal to request accommodations. That being said, students will be expected to keep up with their education, even if it is through distance learning in accordance with state guidelines.
Following similar models, Imperial Unified School District has also informed its community that attendance and performance in individual online courses will be factored in their students’ requirements, according to the district’s Instructional Distance Learning Plan.
“The methods for receiving information, submitting documents and receiving instruction may be different, but expectations for school will remain consistent with what students would normally be expected to achieve,” the district stated in a FAQ sheet sent to the Imperial community. The first day of school for Imperial Unified schools is Aug. 17.
Likewise, the Central Union High School District will be conducting daily live classes between students and teachers while distance learning, explained Ward Andrus, superintendent for the Central Union district.
“Unlike the fourth quarter of the 2019-2020 school year, moving forward we will have a daily class schedule to follow for all our ‘daily live interaction’ as required by the new state laws,” noted Andrus.
Central’s district will also have to take and report daily attendance and participation in the daily activities, Andrus confirmed.
“Schools are developing plans to follow up with those that are not participating regularly,” he stated. “We are working to re-establish the daily routine of learning.”
The first day of school for Central Union High School District is Aug. 10 for Southwest and Central Union high schools. The first day for El Centro Elementary School District schools is Aug. 24.
Although a majority of local school districts are preparing their students and parents for the first ever online-only first day of school, they are also planning a head for how a transition back into the classrooms might look.
Unfortunately, those plans are tentative and will likely change throughout the course of the fall session as districts work with local public health officials to best protect their community during the ongoing pandemic.
Additionally, district superintendents can only apply for a waiver from the local health officer to open elementary schools between the grades of transitional kindergarten up to sixth grade for in-person instruction in a county on the monitoring list, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Such applications do have requirements that districts must follow in order to be eligible for review by the local health officer. According to a recent press release by the public health department, health officers should consult with the department regarding their determination.
They may conditionally grant an application with limits on the number of elementary schools allowed to re-open or allow re-opening in phases to monitor for any impact on the community, according to the release. For more information on the waiver process visit California Department of Public Health website.