Eye of the Editors: A look into future California distance learning policies

“2020 was the best year!” Said no one ever.

As the 2020-2021 Wilson school year is coming to an end, students rejoice over surviving another school year but in literal terms. But, right now, Wilson’s student body is in another predicament on what exactly is next for their education.

On Mar. 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines on COVID-19 precautions for school. The majority of the update encompasses new procedures for in-person learning, such as a three feet minimum between students and infrastructure changes. Still, final decisions are left up to the districts with Hacienda La Puente Unified School District (HLPUSD) sticking to the six-foot standard.

During these desperate times, preparation is crucial to ensure the safety of every Wilson student and staff in the scenario where the school does adopt a hybrid-learning model next year. And, from looking at the current trend of the pandemic, there is a possibility of a return to campus.

On Feb. 25, HLPUSD finalized its operations to continue distance learning through the rest of the school year. A brief newsletter sent out by Superintendent Alfonso Jimenez details future opportunities to send cohorts of students back to school next year with proper social distancing guidelines, ensuring the safety of HLPUSD staff and students.

Source: Return to Campus Safety Protocols video provided by the HLPUSD YouTube channel

From implementing physical barriers to temperature checks, much is done in line with the CDC procedures. According to Jimenez, in-person learning is indefinite, but as the district is gathering parent feedback, the health and safety of students and staff remain “top priority.”

When confronted on the details behind the district announcements, Assistant Principal Samuel Sanford explained the plans for a hybrid learning structure at Wilson as the school prepares for how student schedules and attendance will look like; with no strings attached, the agenda is largely dependent on the future situation of COVID-19.

“I hope that we can return to something close to normal in August,” Sanford said. “But, we are planning for contingencies, and if the situation calls for it, a lot of those plans might change, depending on the overall safety protocols at that time.”

Undoubtedly, the requirement of periodic checks on COVID-19 should not be ignored. A year has passed since COVID-19 appeared, and California has administered more than 15 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Los Angeles Times. While a large number, it still falls short when compared to other regions. The reason? Simply, a large populace but a small pool of vaccine recipients that are actually eligible for vaccination. Currently, only about half of all Californians can be vaccinated, which includes adults 65 and older, healthcare workers, teachers, homeless, essential workers and residents 16 and older with disabilities. Applied with additional factors like skeptics, vaccine administrations are in a tight spot. However, California state governor Gavin Newsom claims that the vaccine will be available to everyone by May with no specified timeline. If all is on schedule, we could be looking at recovery for a hybrid learning structure, nevertheless, a normal school year.

Flash forward to now: reopening guidelines are still being debated amongst Los Angeles school districts. According to Sanford, most district-wide decisions are independently left up to the school—omitting vaccine distribution—from reopening classes to micromanaging student hallways. But one trouble remains in the minds of the school body, particularly the staff: safety.

As an integral part of the entire system, school staff should not be forgotten within the discussion. In fact, according to the January Wildcat Newsletter by Dr. Kenfield, besides the custodial team, only one administrator and one clerical staff member are working on campus daily due to the high rate of COVID-19 contractions throughout the county.

But, as recent California cases have fallen, negotiations are being conducted between Los Angeles districts and school staff, teachers in particular, on resuming in-person instruction. Specifically, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has struck a deal with the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) through specified demands such as allowing schools access to vaccinations and enforcing safety protocols. With over 89% teacher support, HLPUSD will likely follow LAUSD’s transition into in-person learning; however, it is essential to take into account Wilson’s staff’s opinions towards returning as obligations towards a job should not be a risk to a person’s overall safety.

“While the improving COVID-19 situation is still fragile, we believe this agreement puts LAUSD on the path to a physical reopening of schools that puts safety first,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz told ABC7.

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 will continue to have a significant impact, physically and emotionally, even after the pandemic is over. It is especially within everyone’s best interests to keep the virus at bay through continued social distancing practices.

But, looking at the recent return of sports to the Wilson campus, perhaps there is a possibility of promising the safety of the school body and initiating in-person learning at the same time. As the Wilson Athletics Director, Willie Allen keeps a close eye on sports on campus after physical practice went back in session. From setting up multiple COVID monitoring forms and keeping check of safety protocols, there is much to be done to verify both the safety of students and their families. At this time, only athletics within the current season are practicing, such as football, soccer, basketball, badminton, tennis, and swim.

“The county categorizes teams as cohorts. Before in November, there were some restrictions such as [hosting] practices with less than thirteen students, but requirements have changed since then,” Allen said. “Right now, we come in just to check that the kids are spaced out six feet apart and check in with the daily COVID monitoring form.”

Challenges remain as the virus is still rampant, to which a single case discovered at the Wilson field could shut down the entire operation. However, since getting his second dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Allen remains optimistic after Wilson conducted a successful football game against Walnut High School last week with close family and even the superintendent in attendance.

“I think it is going really well right now. Last week’s football game was the first time we had spectators [in Wilson], which there was a whole other plan to filling out forms that went smoothly overall,” Allen said.

Of course, it is all too early to tell. With an uncontrollable virus, districts are not able to fully guarantee the safety of everyone. But, whether or not we do adopt some form of physical learning, it can be said that Wilson students and staff have adapted well enough into the distance learning model, at a point where the administration can also make improvements towards the online school experience in August.

All in all, information is sparse on the topic of reopening, to which Wilson is not alone in this dilemma. As students and staff brace for finals, the future of California schools rests upon the shoulders of the government, districts, staff, and students.

“With about 300 district employees at the Wilson gym getting their second COVID vaccination, hopefully, the vaccine going around means the numbers will plateau, and staff and students can feel safe once again,” Allen said.

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It is important, now more than ever, for students to support other students. Support student-run coverage of distance learning at Wilson HS by following Paw Prints Weekly on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for updates.

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