Pursuit of on-campus return nixed

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Pursuit of on-campus return nixedDays before learning that Kern County numbers disqualified an on-campus return for the start of the school year, administrators, trustees and teachers from the Sierra Sands Unified School District Board of Education met July 16 to affirm support for safely reopening school sites.

The latest parent survey showed that some 65 percent of parents favored a return to campus-based instruction. For most cases, students would be divided into morning and afternoon cohorts to attend class with strict enforcement of masks, social-distancing and heightened sanitation protocols.

“I believe that public education is one of the foundational pillars of the American Dream,” wrote Dr. David Ostash SSUSD superintendent. “All students deserve the priceless opportunity that is provided in the classroom. We must deliver the very best public service so that we are teaching the whole child.

“This means that among other important areas of a child’s life we are teaching or providing services in these areas: academic, socio-emotional, nutrition, mental health and physical/athletic. While we can certainly provide comprehensive services in a number of ways, including virtual, there is no substitute for human connection and inspiration that occurs on campus, in the classroom.”

Parents will also have the option to enroll their students in an online program under district oversight.

Throughout the months-long distance-learning model implemented last spring, officials from law enforcement to mental welfare reported that incidents of abuse had increased during shelter-at-home. Other families with socioeconomic disadvantages — including reduced access to technology — reportedly suffered disproportionately from academic loss during that period.

During Thursday’s meeting, Trustee Bill Farris said that what faced our community was a series of suboptimal solutions.

He commended Ostash for outlining the guiding principles for the district. “As we go through the process, we know every day there’s going to be a change. And that horizon gives us something new that we’ve got to deal with. At any given point in time, picking the ‘perfect’ solution is impossible,” said Farris.

“So I really believe that having those guiding principles is a key to our success. If the district can keep those principles at the forefront of their decisions, and be thoughtful, reasonable and caring, they can come up with a plan that serves the community.

Farris added that there are some elements of attending school in person that cannot be addressed in a distance-learning model.

“One of the things that I can’t minimize is that by providing public education, we provide a common arena for young people to learn what other people’s cultures and experiences are. And by not having that, we lose tremendous value.

“In a time when we already have so much division, and such an inability to come together, if there is any way we can preserve that opportunity we’ve got to try,” said Farris. “People have got to learn how to work together and accomplish goals together with people who are not just like them.”

Trustees Tim Johnson and Kurt Rockwell echoed those sentiments.

Ostash said that one of the greatest challenges for the district is that attending school has been identified as the safest place for students. However, he said, for other stakeholder groups in the district that is not the case.

“As I type up this message at my kitchen table 9 hours before the start of the meeting, the plan is for school to reopen on Aug. 11,” Desert Area Teachers Association President Eileen Poole wrote to the board.

“Based on the survey DATA conducted, teachers want to be in their classrooms — as long as safety measures are in place.”

She added that based on the survey results and the many emails she has received, the most important safety measures to teachers are a mask requirement, availability of hand sanitizer and enforced social distancing.

“Happily, the district supports all of these, as evidenced in the Parent Square email sent out earlier this week,” she wrote. “We applaud this and are grateful that staff safety is recognized and valued.”

“As we move forward with the modified on-campus schedule, we are confident that the teachers’ duty-free lunch will be preserved and that enough time will be provided for the custodial staff to sanitize all surfaces.”

Poole said that teachers look forward to the prospect of providing the best possible solution for students.

District officials say they still intend to continue refining their transition to on-campus instruction. See related story: news-ridgecrest.com/news/story.pl?id=0000011606.

Pictured: SSUSD School Boardmember Bill Farris. — News Review file photo

Story First Published: 2020-07-24