Students dialing into class from a coffee shop, then switching to a desk the next day. Protective masks in school colors. Common areas that look like they've been emptied for mopping. And speaking of cleaning – way more of it.
Students dialing into class from a coffee shop, then switching to a desk the next day. Protective masks in school colors. Common areas that look like they’ve been emptied for mopping. And speaking of cleaning – way more of it.
With schools throughout the North State honing their reopening plans as coronavirus restrictions are reduced, these are some of the changes students and parents might see once the new semester rolls around.
Mount Shasta Union School District and the Siskiyou Union High School District have sent out simple surveys for parents to answer two questions: they want to know whether parents would feel comfortable with their children in classrooms next year, and ask for any comments on the topic.
“The new normal could look very different,” said Norm Hall, president of Simpson University in Redding. “There’s so much unknown, it puts us in the situation of having layers of planning with contingencies that follow that.”
At the same time school leaders are looking to bring a sliver of normalcy back to their students’ lives, they’re also trying to balance the safety measures it would take for their return not to have dire consequences.
“None of these things are done in a vacuum, you know? They have such impact,” said Stephen Schoonmaker, president and superintendent of College of the Siskiyous. “We’re one of the largest employers in the county, so if we go back and we start having more social interaction, then are we causing undue risk to the county by perhaps bringing an outbreak here?”
The goal, of course, is for that not to happen.
Even when students go back to campus, guidelines on physical distance are likely to still be in place to minimize the chance of an outbreak.
“How do we ensure the safety of not only the kids on the bus, but the employee that’s driving the bus?” said Kermith Walters, Siskiyou County’s superintendent of schools. “There’s a lot of factors at play here.”
Important note: Schools are still waiting on specific guidelines from the state, so most plans floating around at this point are subject to change. And size matters: smaller schools are going to be able to do things differently than some of the larger schools said Walters.
Here’s a look at the ideas and plans in place so far at a sampling of schools around the North State:
Going back to school — some of the time
At most North State schools, smaller in-person classes that rotate with distance learning are being considered.
Simpson plans to have most of its instruction in person, though distancing guidelines would still change the number of people who could be in one class at a time. Face-to-face interaction is an important piece of the school’s culture, Hall said.
“It’s all about engaging the student as a whole person,” he said.
The private Christian school is looking at numerous safety measures – including temperature checks, limiting visitors, handing out masks in Simpson’s school colors and increasing medical availability for students, as well as ramping up cleaning and social-distancing protocols. More cleaning, clear partitions and educating students on ways to protect their own health will also be important, Hall said.
“Everybody, like us, has to plan for, ‘What if this goes south in October?’” he said.
Shasta College, on the other hand, is planning on continuing distance learning for most of its classes in the fall, while those that are hard to do online will happen in person.
“The biggest challenge right now is the space; our classrooms just weren’t developed for the idea of 6 feet of space between everybody in there,” said Gregory Smith, assistant superintendent and vice president of administrative services.
Other factors come into play
That’s partially because, at the same time, public schools have to factor in the hit from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May budget revise, which called for millions in cuts to schools because of the financial toll from the virus.
“Everything we’re talking about is going to cost more money,” Walters said. “It adds a whole other layer of not only just us looking at trying to provide equitable distance learning to all of our students, but, you know, now we’re going to do it with less money.”
Still, most schools want students to start coming in person at least some of the week. Niche, a company that analyzes education data, said its survey of 10,000 students in high school and college found that 78% of them see in-person classes as appealing, while only 28% saw online-only as a favorable option for fall 2020.
But in Shasta College’s case, Smith said waiting until more guidelines come out to make a decision was putting unnecessary stress on students.
“It’s really disruptive to have to make that change in the middle of the semester,” he said, noting that anyone with questions or even feedback should call the school’s command center at (530) 242-7910.
With people likely to be back on campus at least some of the time, virtually all schools surveyed said they’ll significantly increase their cleaning routines. There’s also the chance of masks, isolation rooms and temperature checks at some campuses, as well as cleared gathering spaces to encourage social distancing.
At College of the Siskiyous, Schoonmaker said the plan is for on-campus housing not to allow as many people to a room. While the county’s only had six confirmed cases of the virus, Schoonmaker said the school has a responsibility to do what it can to keep that number down.
“That can give the community a false sense of security, ‘Oh, we don’t really have an issue.’ But then we bring 1,500 students to the community and they’re young and they’re interacting, and do we create a problem?” he said. “So we obviously are concerned that whatever we do, we do it first and foremost for the health and safety of our students and our faculty and staff and the community in which we live and work.”
Alayna Shulman writes for the Record Searchlight/USA TODAY Network.
Skye Kinkade contributed to this report.