PATTERSON, Calif. — With Stanislaus County schools unable to reopen with in-person classes in August due a surge in coronavirus cases, Patterson school officials are delaying the start of school for about a month.
While Modesto and Turlock schools opted to start their school year virtually, Philip Alfano, Patterson Joint Unified School District Superintendent, is opting out of the virtual classroom approach in an effort to get students one more month in the classroom.
“I think if we’re all being honest, distance learning is a poor substitution for in-class instruction,” said Alfano.
He said that the delay of the school year was really the delay of distance learning for Patterson students, and he noted that the return to distance learning was a bigger issue for the district than postponing the start of classes.
Alfano, who said he has taught graduate students in distance learning environments, said people have a difficult time with not just learning but also with the technology used, like WebEx and Zoom.
"Imagine teaching a kindergartner on their first day of school in that environment," Alfano said. "If we can avoid that, I think we owe it to our parents and our community to try and avoid it."
The wait-and-see approach will let officials gauge whether they can reopen classrooms safely on Sept. 8. However, Alfano said there are no guarantees.
The district is prepared to launch into distance learning if need be, but they'll use this time to explore whether they'll be able to open schools up with a hybrid or full capacity model.
"Our rationale and thinking, with direction from our board, was to delay the opening, hoping that things get better," Alfano said. "If they don’t, we’re still prepared to execute a distance learning model, but when schools are able to reopen, our students will recoup about a month of class time instruction, either at the beginning or the end of the school year.”
Students will still have the same number of instruction and academic days under the plan, the only fluid number will be the amount of days they spend in a distance learning environment.
The district enrolls nearly 6,200 students, a large majority of which are Latino children who are English-language learners and receive free or reduced-price meals at their schools.
In Stanislaus County, Latino residents make 73% of the county's nearly 5,200 reported coronavirus cases despite only being 47% of the population.
The district has also been busy working toward the reopening of schools. Alfano said the district has already bought PPE face masks for their students and digital thermometers for parents to temperature check their children.
At the school sites, they've been increasing outdoor seating and health office space to practice social distancing. Alfano said the research he's done shows that masking is an appropriate measure to take when social distancing isn't possible, so the schools will educate students on mask usage, which he says will take a lot of effort to do.
Regardless of the district's protocols, Alfano said "you cannot completely social distance in an educational environment, and I think that’s what driving the decision to keep schools closed."
As plans change, Alfano is asking parents and students to stay tuned to their website for regular updates, however, the district will be using everything from auto-dialers to mail to make sure parents stay informed.
Mailers with more information for district parents will be sent out on the weekend along with additional information on their website and PeachJar account. An informational WebEx meeting for all families in the district will take place on July 22 at 6 p.m. The link will be given through PeachJar.