LCUSD Extends School Closures Through May 5

Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
The La Cañada Unified School District board and staff members met virtually on March 31 at a special meeting that included Anais Wenn (front, from left), Dan Jeffries and Brent Kuszyk. Middle: Mark Evans, Ellen Multari and Kaitzer Puglia. Back: Joe Radabaugh, Jamie Lewsadder and Wendy Sinnette.

The La Cañada Unified School District board voted to extend school closures through Tuesday, May 5, at a Tuesday night special virtual meeting, and acknowledged that the timeline could be further pushed back.
The vote took into account the recommended May 5 date put forth by the Los Angeles County Office of Education. The meeting featured governing board members attending virtually, or via video conferencing site Zoom, and was broadcast live on YouTube.
Before voting, Superintendent Wendy Sinnette spoke of the statement from the California Department of Education, sent earlier on Tuesday, which said it “currently appears” students will not be able to return to school campuses before the end of the school year.
The letter, written by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to all county superintendents, did not explicitly state schools must close for the year. The letter states: “This is in no way to suggest that school is over for the year, but rather we should put all efforts into strengthening our delivery of education through distance learning.”
Meanwhile, Sinnette said she had not heard of any local districts, as of Tuesday night, closing their schools through the end of the academic year.
“It’s not a pure directive yet,” said District Governing Board President Joe Radabaugh. “Yes, it’s new info but there’s no directive as of right now it appears.” He said he would like more information before making the decision to close school through the end of the school year.
Initially, the governing board voted in an emergency meeting on March 12 to close all schools through Friday, March 27. The board met again on March 20, in response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Stay at Home” order and extended closures through Sunday, April 19.
Earlier this week, Sinnette confirmed that a district staff member had tested positive for COVID-19 and before the meeting, said she had informed parents of the case on Friday, March 27.
“While there was no exposure to any of our students, staff or families, I want to remind you to please follow public health guidelines to keep you and your family healthy and safe,” Sinnette said in the letter. “I have been guided by the L.A. County Department of Education and the Department of Public Health that this is the extent of the information that I may share.”
She did not provide additional details.
Last week, Sinnette said she talked extensively with health officials on the matter and provided them with specific details and timelines.
“Given the specifics of our case, they did not consider it an ‘exposure’ and they provided me with the exact language to share with parents. I was even told that there were no notification requirements, given the details of our case. However, in an abundance of caution, I used their notification verbiage and shared it with our community,” Sinnette said.
The case was not addressed during the Tuesday meeting.
During the meeting, Sinnette said distance learning assignments would be graded after spring break, which ends on April 14.
“With grading there’s a lot to figure out,” Sinnette said. According to the California Department of Education recommendation, all assignments, activities, projects and assessments that a teacher determines to be required and graded shall only enhance a student’s grade. It will not be punitive.
“No third quarter grades or progress reports shall be issued,” Sinnette said, adding the next step will be to grade progress earned through March 12.
“We have that and we will continue to grade required assignments,” Sinnette said. “Grades will be used to demonstrate progress through the curriculum and will also be used to augment grades that were earned as of March 12.”
She said that students who think they have an “A” and don’t need to do more than the bare minimum will be graded accordingly.
“Your grade won’t be negatively impacted but there are other considerations,” she said, adding students might find themselves not being able to advance to an AP or honors level class.
After negotiating with the La Cañada Teachers Association on a memorandum of understanding, Sinnette said their work day will include direct instruction, planning, grading, professional development, grade level or department collaboration and communicating with students and families.
Friday, April 3, and Monday, April 13, will be non-instructional teacher preparation days to plan for the transition, she said.
Beginning Friday, April 17, every other Friday throughout the end of school will be a non-instructional day for teacher preparation.
Among some of the top issues regarding distance learning is that of partnering with parents on student progress and having close communication with special education and the English Language Development families.
During the presentation about distant learning response efforts, LCHS 7/8 Principal Jarrett Gold said core classes were averaging 90% student participation while electives such as graphic arts and band/orchestra were also showing a 90% participation rate. Additionally, 90% of teachers were providing direct instruction via Screencastify (a free, screen recorder) or other platforms to engage students, he said.
LCHS Principal Jim Cartnal said teachers have been connected with students daily using Google Classroom, email and Google Hangout and other online platforms.
The state Department of Education has suspended all California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress testing, as well as English Language Proficiency Assessments for California for English language learners, said Anais Wenn, assistant superintendent of education services. Physical fitness testing will be put on hold until students return to school while AP testing will be given remotely, she said. A Local Control Accountability Plan will also be suspended for the 2019-20 school year.
Derek Ihori, the district’s executive director of special education and psychological services, said the special education staff members are using a variety of methods to help students with disabilities. The tools they’re using include Google Classroom, recorded lessons, live group lessons via voice or video conference, individual lessons and interactions with voice or video and consultations with parents, Ihori said.
Sinnette said a lot of individualized, specialized programs for students require what the district can’t give right now: a personalized touch or connection.
“This distance learning model may be leaving gaps,” she said. “We’ll need to come together and assess where your child is. Maybe summer school and an extended school year is longer, I don’t know what those answers are. We will address what is not provided going forward and we’ll work with you when this crisis is over.”
The full meeting, which lasted nearly four hours, can be watched on YouTube at the LCUSD Media page located at youtube.com/watch?v=yMkHyWEpdhE.

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