Secondary students in the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District are heading back to campuses after board members unanimously approved an April 14 start date at a special board meeting last week.
The district scheduled the March 24 special meeting after COVID-19 cases dropped low enough for both San Bernardino and Riverside counties to move into the red or substantial tier. It is the first time that both counties have been in the red tier since the color-coded tracking system was introduced in August 2020.
“With the change in the numbers, the adjusted COVID rate, we are able to bring back middle and high school students,” Superintendent Cali Binks said as she opened the agenda item.
“Today, what the board has before them is the opportunity to choose a date for middle school and high school, that is called secondary reopening, for us to start,” Binks later said.
“The soonest date that we could return is Wednesday, April 14, with the date of Monday, (April) 19, being the start of the school week,” she said, adding teachers are allowed five school days to prepare their classrooms.
The district is currently on Spring Break until Tuesday, April 6, when elementary school students are set to return to some in-person learning for the first time in more than a year.
Like elementary students, in-person learning is optional for secondary students. If families decide they would prefer to stay in distance learning for the remainder of the school year, which ends June 9, then they can. Parent surveys to select a student’s preferred learning method – online or a hybrid schedule – were sent out through the Aeries Parent Portal.
However, when the surveys initially became available last week, school schedules were not ready.
“There is still some work that needs to be done to finalize the schedule with our teachers as is required. We will be working on that and get that resolved as soon as possible,” board president Mike Snellings said after approving the in-person start date.
Board clerk Patty Ingram addressed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent relaxation on physical distance requirements for students in the classroom from six to three feet, when face coverings are mandatory.
“I think it’s important to realize that we would all like to be back in the normal classroom, which would basically be the three feet,” she said.
However, the district has to go through the collective bargaining process, she said.
“But, I am so confident that our staff and our teachers are working together to get us back,” Ingram said. “I just want to pick a date and get going and if we move to something a little different in the schedule at some point in time because we have the agreements different, I want to do that because I want to get open … start as soon as we can and get it going.”
The other board members agreed that more in-person class time was more important than waiting until the first possible Monday.
“I just want them to go back and the sooner the better,” said board member Debbie Miller.
“I think a Wednesday start date is fine,” said Cathy Bogh Coate, a board member who is also a teacher at Inland Leaders Charter School. “It will give you an opportunity to get your feet wet. Then, that will give you the weekend to … take a rest and get going again on Monday.”
She shared she has done this schedule herself.
“It is very beneficial to have that Friday come a little bit faster,” Coate said about the mid-week start.
Board member Sharon Bannister agreed and pointed out that often the school year begins mid-week.
Health and safety protocols
Eric Vreeman, assistant superintendent of Business Services, went over the health and safety protocols that students and staff can expect when they return to campus.
Filtration systems have been installed in the HVAC units, air purifiers have been placed in every classroom and thermal scanners will take temperatures when students arrive on campus.
“We are going to do daily temperature checks at schools,” Vreeman said. “We have those at schools, those are ready to go. They are not required, but we feel like we would like to continue with that practice at least until the end of the year.”
One thing that Superintendent Binks said she has been asked about a lot are face coverings. They will be mandatory.
“I have been asked about when can we go without masks and those kinds of things and that is when there are no more tiers,” Binks said. “That is the current understanding. But, we also all know that guidance changes weekly.”
Should a student forget their mask, the school will provide one.
“We do have face coverings for students,” Vreeman said. “We ask them to bring them to school, but if they do not bring them, then we do have face coverings at the school.”
There are some exemptions for face coverings, but very few, he said. According to information provided at the special board meeting, face mask exemptions due to a medical condition will need to be confirmed by a district health team and therapists. Even then, those students will be expected to wear a face shield with a drape at the bottom of edge, as long as their condition permits it.
For now, students and teachers will physically distance at six feet.
“In secondary schools, our plan is to keep all the desks in the classrooms and then designated certain desks for certain periods. If a student came in first period and then the next period, the second-period student came in, they wouldn’t share the same desk,” Vreeman said.
In elementary classrooms, desks have been removed and students will have designated areas for recess.
To further help with ventilation, doors and windows will be kept open when possible.
“We do feel that we have all the proper safety equipment. We have the proper planning. We have been preparing all year. We have worked with everyone. It has been a great team effort,” Vreeman said.