School District hopes to announce its plan for reopening schools by mid-July

Yucaipa High School campus is nearly empty, like other campuses acorss the district.

Sometime over the next several weeks, the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District expects to complete its plan document for the safe reopening of schools and share it with families.

Mid-July is the optimistic goal, but Superintendent Cali Binks cautioned it may be after that, at the recent board meeting.

“It is a goal,” she said of the mid-July target date.

“I would like to be held harmless if I don’t make it,” she added, jokingly.

Binks’ timeline goal was in response to a question from board president Patty Ingram.

“I will raise the question, do you have an estimated time on the arrival of when we will have our decision on how we are going to open and what it will look like?” Ingram asked.

“We were looking for mid-July. We were hoping to give ourselves enough time to get the work done that needs to happen after the plan is in place,” Binks said. “But things change rapidly … so we are trying to plan for everything, each phase that we could possibly be in and the nuances that come with each phase.

“Our goal is still mid-July, but I would say it could run just a week or so after that. We want to be thoughtful about the work and we are actually trying to speed it up in some ways, but it is incredibly detailed, thoughtful work that needs to be done.”

That detailed, thoughtful work is being formed by Operations and Instruction Task Forces comprised of district administrators, teachers, other staff members and parents. About 60 parents volunteered to participate.

“Wow, I think that is amazing,” Binks said when she revealed how many parents volunteered.

The district has been compiling parents’ feedback from several different sources, not just from the task force. For a couple of months, parents have been able to take a survey on their preference for their child’s learning for the upcoming school year on the district website. Parents can also email the district.

Binks added district staff has been informally questioning parents when they call for other information.

“As we have been taking phone calls, we have just been asking parents what their thoughts are, what their concerns are, what they are looking for,” she said. “You do not need to be on the task force to have an opinion that you can share with us.”

Learning options

While the district is still shaping its plan to safely reopen schools, Binks had previously shared learning options available in the upcoming school year.

“In addition to our students returning to their schools, parents can also choose from an integrated opportunity (at-home learning with scheduled on-campus teacher support), and at-home based learning models (online curriculum or district provided curriculum) with teacher support via online appointments or phone,” Binks said.

“These options give parents several ways to support their children’s education in a setting they are most comfortable, with the assurance they will receive a high-quality program,” she said, continuing.

Parents who want to learn more about learning options or to register for an option can contact the Educational Services Division via email and they will be called back. Parents who desire to return to the in-school model on Aug. 13 do not need to register for an option.

Already nearly 200 parents have made appointments with the district to discuss hybrid-learning options, announced Binks and Jaime Anderson, assistant superintendent of Educational Services.

“This is no easy feat, but we want to give the best customized service that we can,” Binks said. “We appreciate your patience as we work through the appointments."

Other input

Administrators, teachers and aides comprise the Instruction Task Force, Anderson said.

“We really appreciate people volunteering and stepping forward to want to be part of this collaborative work,” she said.

With priorities in place, the Instruction Task Force is planning to break into focus groups to delve into more specific issues.

“We are looking more in detail on what our next steps and what each phase might look like. We are looking forward to bringing the recommendations back to the board,” Anderson said.

The Operations Task Force, headed by Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Eric Vreeman, is also a diverse group of teachers, aides, custodians, office staff and administrators.

“I think it is going well,” Vreeman said. “We have a lot of positive momentum, such a diverse group.”

“Just a diverse group to look at the different issues,” he said. “We have broken into focus groups, just as instruction has. We are really taking a large group of 30 and breaking into small groups of three or four so that we can really focus on different areas, such as social distancing, personal protective equipment and those things.”

Board members will have the opportunity to provide input through meetings, Binks said.

“As we continue to work with our parents, I want to be able to communicate back to you and make sure the task force has what the parents are looking at and asking for. But of course, making sure the board of education understands where those meetings have gone,” she said. “There is a lot of sharing of information.”

“We appreciate all of the people who are participating in the different task forces,” said board member Chuck Christie. “It just underscores the importance of the work that you are doing on this.”

While the district would like to have guidelines in place for the upcoming school year by mid-July, board member Sharon Bannister cautioned against a rush just to make a deadline.

“We need to make that decision thoughtfully however much time that takes because once you put it out there, taking it back is more difficult,” she said. “That is not fair to people.”

Binks agreed, noting some districts have already had to revise their safe reopening plans.

“We want to make sure we make the best decision at the appropriate time with all the information we can possibly have,” she said.

“A lot of parents want to know what is it going to look like when we come back to school and we know a majority of our parents would like to do that,” Binks said. “We are working with you, and of course, the task forces, to determine all those safety precautions and the things we might need to do. What is feasible and what will it look like.”

For more information on the district’s hybrid-learning options, contact the Educational Services Division at YCJUSDlearns@ycjusd.us

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