The Coronado Unified School District Board meeting was held at the district offices on Thursday, September 10th at 4pm. The topic of the hour? Phased reopening plans to get students safely back in the classroom.
“My hat goes off to our parents out there who are helping our students navigate these virtual learning experiences,” said Superintendent Karl Mueller. “I would also like to share that Phase One of our reopening plan begins next week as we welcome back our first cohort of students.”
Dr. Megan Battle, Director of Learning, said that Phase One would begin on Monday, September 14, whereby the most vulnerable students would be invited back into the classroom certain days of the week for a hybrid learning experience. Assuming all goes well, the next cohort of students would return on October 5.
When it comes to Bridge Learning, Dr. Battle shared that current attendance and engagement rates are very high. More than 1,200 devices have been deployed to families to assist with virtual learning, and families are able to check out devices at their individual schools. Dr. Battle acknowledged that the district’s I.T. professionals have been working “around the clock” to make sure students and families have what they need to be successful on a daily basis.
“Data on current attendance rates is high, and we have a high level of engagement since the beginning of bridge on August 27th,” said Dr. Battle. “Navigating each day has its challenges, but I really want to thank our teachers for preparing for, and successfully launching Bridge. There have been some bumps, but overall I know I have been hearing a lot of feedback from parents and community members that they appreciate the structured schedules and their kids are getting a variety of engaging activities.”
Some emails from parents shared at the meeting, however, expressed a different sentiment.
“In the spirit of adapting, please find solutions for the virtual classrooms that are not working,” wrote Christina Hughes. “What you have tried is not helping, at all. Hire producers who can act as tech support for teachers or redistribute kids to classrooms that are functional. When it works, its fine, when it doesn’t its useless and even harmful.”
Other parents expressed disappointment that Coronado schools are not reopening more quickly.
“Get moving on reopening schools, be transparent about the considerations and ideas being considered, and communicate with your shareholders about your plan,” wrote Christine Ward in an email. “Our students deserve better.”
Three board members also urged the district to consider a swifter reopening plan.
“This is painfully slow,” said CUSD Board President Julie Russell. “I don’t know why we are taking the most conservative path here.”
Maria Simon echoed this sentiment, and asked that the district be more transparent about any and all phased re-openings.
“There’s a lot of pressure from our community that we get these kids back to school, and I understand this timeline…but let’s be aggressive,” said Simon. “We are losing students daily from our school. And they are going to places where they can have face to face instruction.”
Board member Lee Pontes also urged for a faster-reopening, and a more detailed plan…sooner, rather than later.
“My problem right now, as I sit here, is I don’t see the plan. I don’t see the whole plan,” said Pontes.
Board members Esther Valdes-Clayton and Helen Anderson-Cruz pointed out that local coronavirus cases are on the rise, and that several schools offering in-person learning, including Our Lady of Peace, have already had to shut down.
“I believe [reopening] is designed this way because of the flu season we are about to enter, and they need to monitor and tightly control what the cohorts are, and to trace any outbreak,” said Valdes-Clayton.
“We want to do things very thoughtfully, very carefully, so we don’t have to pivot, immediately,” said Dr. Battle. “We want to make sure that protocols are being followed, and that we don’t have any outbreaks of COVID, where we have to then shut down.”
When asked if the school did indeed have a more detailed plan laid out for Phase 3 and Phase 4 returns, Mueller answered definitively, “yes.”
“I want to remind our board that our focus and our priority is to get our kids back as quickly and as safely as possible, and we need to ensure continuity of learning for our students,” said Mueller. “We have seen some of the private schools that have reopened, close. We have seen some of the universities that have opened, close. But I’ve heard clear from the board, for us to publish a ‘return to school’ timeline with dates and phases and outlines, with an understanding that variables may change… Staff will provide that to our community.”
Also topping the agenda was an update on the equity action plan, presented by Niamh Foley, Director of Student Services. Several members of the public emailed in support of proposed changes, including the language added to the Discipline Action Guide, essentially banning racial slurs.
Mueller emphasized that how the discipline is dispensed will be in direct response to the severity of the offense. Valdes applauded the plan’s tiered approach to interventions.
“There will be immediate discipline, but it also enables students to correct, and apologize and move forward,” says Valdes-Clayton. “It’s not retribution, it allows them to learn, and that is what discipline is for, is to learn correct behavior.”
The board was also invited to a first-read of the new board policy on equity, which is also linked to the meeting agenda and made available to the public. The board will vote to approve the equity plan in October, at which time Foley will share the process for selecting members of the new equity committee. Board members Valdes-Clayton and Anderson-Cruz underscored the need for strong, unwavering input from an advisor who understands the Coronado community.
“The community expectations [for this] are really high,” said Valdes-Clayton. “Independent of any kind of politicizing…we want our students to have no racial barriers that would limit their academics. I just want to encourage you when you are scoping any diversity of equity consultants please demand a lot, on behalf of our students. We want more than slides and theories. We really want action.”
“We need a consultant who can connect theory to practice because we want to connect equity to academic achievement of all students,” said Anderson-Cruz.
As it relates to race relations, two community members, both of whom are running for school board, Stacy Keszei and Kenneth “Mike” Canada, wrote in demanding an explanation for the inclusion of educational materials from the controversial 1619 Project into a high school curriculum.
Board member Pontes expressed concern, asking if there are procedures in place when it comes to monitoring what the teachers teach, as it relates to California state standards. Mueller assured him there are protocols in place to which Coronado teachers are beholden, and it’s prudent to assume good intent. But volatile times may require extra care.
“I know that we are living in very divisive times right now, and everything is loaded, but I believe that we have teachers that foster creativity and critical thinking, and if we can coach our educators in area, it is to make sure that we establish in our classrooms the why,” said Mueller. “It’s important to understand the context, and that we frontload, we present our content with care and consideration particularly if there is a sensitive topic of discussion.”
Also worth noting, is the much-anticipated transition of kindergarten students from the ECDC location to the main Village Elementary School campus. Mueller congratulated Deputy District Superintendent Donnie Salamanca for spearheading this arrangement and the leasing of the ECDC campus, essentially saving the district from painful budget cuts.
“A lot of creativity and effort and logistical initiative have gone into where we’re at with our budget right now, and Mr. Salamanca–you and your team are responsible for this position,” said Mueller. “If we hadn’t done this, we would be looking at cuts right now.”
On Monday, some of the districts youngest learners will begin in-school teaching at the Village campus, and all are hopeful for a subsequent successful phase 2 opening. Parents are urged to check their emails for updates from the district, and information on when their child may return to campus in hybrid form, if desired.