LCUSD’s Plan for Reopening Takes Shape

After three hours of discourse and public comments on Tuesday, the La Cañada Unified School District’s plan for reopening started to come into focus for all grade levels.
Though no final decisions were made, the district’s governing board agreed with Superintendent Wendy Sinnette’s suggestions to continue developing a possible on-campus plan for transitional kindergarten through 6th grade and an improved distance learning model for grades 7-12.
The 2020-21 school year is scheduled to begin on Monday, Aug. 17, and the board is expected to make a decision regarding instruction in the fall during a special meeting on Tuesday, July 21, at 11:30 a.m. The district will have multiple plans in place to be ready for any scenario in a world with COVID-19.
Board President Joe Radabaugh, who worked with the reopening committee for secondary schools, said he wants to be sure they “can pivot between opening and closing [campuses], depending on the situation. Can we do it quickly? If we start online, can we move to in-person or hybrid? We have to figure out those models.
“I’m confident we will have school next month. The question is what will it look like? Look, all of us would love nothing more than to fully reopen schools. I’m saying this not just as a board member but as a vested parent of a 7th- and 9th-grader.”
The board agreed the proposed elementary schedule is solid and the committee can work off of that framework. Students in grades TK-6 will attend class five days a week in two cohorts. There will be a morning schedule from 8-11:05 a.m., and the afternoon students will attend from 12:05-3:10 p.m. They will receive a total of 170 minutes’ worth of instruction per day for a total of 850 during the week.
Distance learning will also be available for families that are not yet comfortable with sending their children to campus.
Governing board member Kaitzer Puglia said she was happy with the structure that is in place, but it needs to be fine-tuned before it can be approved.
“I do like the elementary school plan,” she said. “It’s extremely important for TK to initially make those contacts and build those relationships. That’s a key component to think about.”
The break between the morning and afternoon schedules would allow personnel to clean classrooms and high-touch areas.
“For our elementary students, my recommendation going forward would be that we push forward with loading, planning and preparing according to the schedule that was proposed by the elementary review committee,” Sinnette said.
The same could not be said for grades 7-12. The committee’s proposed schedule was complex and Sinnette and board members detected many flaws when it was unraveled. As in the elementary plan, there would have been two cohorts of students, one attending class in person on Mondays and Wednesdays and another going to campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays; each group would have engaged in distance learning when not in class those days. There would have been six 40-minute periods between 8:30 a.m. and 1:05 p.m. for in-person instruction, and distance learning for everyone on Fridays.
A hybrid model would place what Sinnette called a “significant burden” on faculty, which would have to prepare for in-person teaching and recorded lessons for online.
Another big concern was that there would be 1,200 people on campus each day, and there wouldn’t be any time to clean and sanitize facilities throughout the day.
Such considerations prompted the board to tilt toward a distance learning model that would consist of six 45-minute periods between 8:30 a.m. and 2:20 p.m.
Sinnette recommended that the committee should “prepare for the distance learning instructional model to open the school year” with the possibility of small-group instruction for social and emotional learning, band, choir and clubs in an effort to provide on-campus experiences. The board would then assess the possibility of returning to school every six weeks.
Even with a decision coming soon, the board reminded those watching the meeting that the situation is fluid and changes can be made.
“Everyone knows folks in this town have their passionate opinions, especially when it comes to what’s best for their kids,” Radabaugh said. “But from my vantage point, this situation is extra, extra tough. I really observed very divided camps in La Cañada right now.”
That split is evident across the nation as parents and districts clash over how to approach the fall semester amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. Sinnette and the board expressed a desire to provide in-person instruction but also concerns over the safety of students and staff.
L.A. County’s infection rate among people who have been tested is 9%, and a record 4,244 new cases and 2,103 hospitalizations were reported on Tuesday.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the nation, announced Monday that students will not return to the classroom when the fall semester begins next month. Burbank, San Diego and San Bernardino also opted for distance learning.
However, the Orange County Board of Education recently voted in favor of reopening campuses, ignoring health and safety mandates such as wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing.
“We’re hearing very strong passionate opinions on all sides,” said board member Brent Kuszyk. “People know what we’re facing. We’ve received a lot of questions from the teachers and we’ll get more into this as the plan unfolds.”

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