School Officials Introduce Initial Reopening Plans

Photo courtesy LCUSD
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette provided a photo showing how a classroom may look in the coming school year, in accordance with social distancing guidelines.

The La Cañada Unified School District’s plan to reopen schools is becoming clearer despite the uncertainty that lies ahead because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette previewed plans from the reopening committee — consisting of district board members, staff members, educators and parents — and addressed concerns from stakeholders during a virtual LCUSD Governing Board meeting on Tuesday.
More details of the committee’s plans will be presented at a meeting on July 14 so that the board can approve them. Sinnette preferred to show a plan early to allow parents and personnel to better prepare for the 2020-21 school year scheduled to begin on Aug. 17.
“I want the community to rest assured that our goal is to bring a reopening plan to the board on July 14,” she said. “ … We do anticipate, with how fluid the COVID-19 situation is, that we could be bringing revisions to the board prior to Aug. 17.”
The district is leaning toward offering a hybrid instruction model — partly on-campus instruction, partly distance learning — and full distance learning for those wishing to avoid the hybrid approach. However, the issue of scheduling is still being discussed by the committee.
Sinnette said a hybrid model may include an A.M./P.M., weekly A/B or some sort of alternating schedule to keep students and staff safe, which the district has said is its top priority.
To comply with guidelines established by the Los Angeles County health department, the district has purchased or is in the process of acquiring personal protective equipment, such as Plexiglas, sanitizer stations, cleaning products, face masks and more.
Social distancing — recommended at 6 feet — is also a hurdle for LCUSD and would decrease class sizes by about 50%. The committee is looking into possibly repurposing larger rooms, such as the gym and cafeteria, to allow for more students in in-person classes.
Campus site leaders are also developing protocols for entry procedures, cleaning plans, dismissal procedures, visitor policies, behavior management and supervision, schedules for support staff, and health office and isolation rooms.
Other priorities for the committee include the social emotional wellness of students, teachers, staff members and families, high-quality education, equity, maintaining flexibility, student access to and proficiency in technology, a sense of normalcy and maintaining fiscal solvency.
The district is approaching the new school year with a phased approach similar to those of the state and county. Phase 1 refers to having all students at home and engaging in distance learning; phase 2 means 50% school capacity, with students spending time on campus and at home with a hybrid schedule; in phase 3, all students are on campus, with distance learning for students not able to return or opting not to return to school; and in phase 4, all schools are open and follow traditional schedules.
In regard to athletics, Sinnette told the board that public health orders prevent coaches from having contact practices. Non-contact drills and conditioning are allowed as long as there is social distancing. Bands, orchestras and choruses face similar challenges.
Several athletic programs from private schools began training in the summer, but those institutions are not bound by public health orders in the same way as LCUSD, which is a public agency.

Another update provided by Sinnette concerned a strengths-and-needs assessment report from Christina Hale-Elliott, a diversity, equity and inclusion officer hired last September to develop a plan for the district in providing a “vision to create welcoming, safe and supportive environments for all students, staff and families.”
Hale-Elliott’s findings will be presented to the board and public in a meeting on Aug. 11. The report — which identifies 20 areas of strength and 22 areas for growth — was finished in March and revised in April, and was expected to be unveiled then. However, that plan was shelved because of the closure of schools due to the pandemic.
Sinnette said she wanted to hold off on the report “to give it the priority attention it deserves” and allow others to read the in-depth study, which has more than 40 pages, before the school year.
“It is now, but with an even greater sense of mission and urgency, a priority of the LCUSD Governing Board and the LCUSD community for our district to make marked advances and systemic progress in ensuring that LCUSD is a school district which models and teaches the tenets of antiracism, and that we are a school district defined by the principles of equity, empathy, diversity, peace and justice,” Sinnette said.
“I recognize openly that our work is just beginning and that it is far more imperative, given this moment in history, that we embrace this as a priority, especially as our world, our nation and our community have collectively identified that we must affirm and commit to the safety and well-being of black people. “We must combat hate and crimes and institutional racism, and we must systemically deliver an education free from discrimination.”
Prior to the closure of campuses, the district had already engaged in a learning series for families, children and staff.

The LCUSD board unanimously adopted a budget with some positives and negatives on Tuesday.
Mark Evans, assistant superintendent of business and administrative services, presented his report and said the future of the budget was “bleak” because of the estimated economic fallout from the pandemic.
However, he noted that his budget estimations were based on the governor’s May revise. The state Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom recently agreed on a budget that would avoid drastic cuts in school funding, and Evans said he would provide an update with more accurate numbers in about six weeks.
“It’s a much better [state] budget,” he said, pointing out that’s good for the district. “I’m very happy with what the Legislature and governor landed on, and that will help us in the year ahead and at least buy us some time going forward with this economic downturn.”
The district saved a good deal because of the closure of facilities, making revenues slightly better than estimated at the second interim report, according to Evans. Expenditures were not as big as anticipated, and the deficit spending is $793,103, a better figure than Evans previously anticipated.
LCUSD’s ending fund balance for 2019-20 is estimated at $6,732,254, a healthy number that appears certain to help the district over the next few years.
“That doesn’t mean there are no hurdles,” Evans said. “ … Right now, a lot of the way we’re able to make the budget look better for the next year is through deferrals.
“While I think we have a good year ahead of us, we have to be prepared for a bumpy road ahead.”

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