Next week is the first day of school.

Instead of new backpacks, excitement over seeing classmates for the first time in months and traffic jams in front of schools, students and teachers will get up, go to their computers and login. With a couple of clicks, a new school year will begin on Thursday, Aug. 13.

“It's definitely hard to imagine starting a school year this way, but none of us had even imagined closing a school year the way we did,” Superintendent Cali Binks said a couple of weeks ago.  

“I am sad,” she said. “I miss the daily interactions with people and the excitement of our schools.  I miss hearing laughter and seeing students and our YCJUSD team.”

Most students in California, like those in the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District, will begin the new school year with distance learning, following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement that districts in counties on the state’s monitoring list cannot open for in-person instruction until COVID-19 cases are lowered.

As of last week, 38 of 58 counties in the state were on the monitoring list for rising cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations. Counties must meet state metrics of lower COVID-19 cases for 14 consecutive days before they are removed from the watch list and can open schools for in-person learning. Districts’ in-person plans also must be approved by the county department of public health before they open classrooms.

Superintendent Cali Binks recently issued a letter regarding the opening of school and distance learning. In the letter, she said:

“We want to assure our community that our distance learning model is improved. Our teachers, administrators and curriculum leaders learned from our experiences last spring. The start of school will look different.

“We will ensure: Teacher-led instruction; device and connectivity availability for students; focused on grade-level standards; scheduled/planned school days; required daily attendance; and normal grading policies.”

To bolster its distance learning, the district’s board of education approved 24 online resources for students, teachers and staff at a special meeting July 30.

Besides the online resources, approximately $1.2 million for 3,875 Chromebooks was also approved. The Chromebooks will be available for students to check out, beginning Aug. 6. Each school site was setting up a schedule and an email regarding information was to be sent to families.

Hundreds of hot spots were also purchased to help students and families with poor internet connections at home.

While the online resources were approved, the meeting was dominated by at least 60 letters, emails and phone calls from primarily teachers requesting the district allow flexibility with their work schedules. As of last week, the district was requiring teachers to instruct from their classrooms. Teachers wanted the options to work at school or home.

“I think it’s important for our Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District family to understand we do care,” said board member Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh. “We care very much about their health and we have been working diligently and having very thoughtful conversations about how to best do distance learning in a way that is safe for everyone because you do matter.”

It was unclear, however, if teachers would be able to work from home. Either way, a different kind of school year begins Thursday.

For more information on the opening of the YCJUSD school year, visit yucaipaschools.com

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