Matthew Lafferty

Two-person desks like these will no longer be in classrooms when school reopens August 4.

“Welcome Back” informational event focuses on academic options, facility readiness, masking

Colton, CA—In a virtual meeting on Monday night, CJUSD administration set the table for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year by answering parent questions about concerns ranging from academic options, safety measures, facility maintenance, and parent access to their student’s data.

This “Welcome Back, CJUSD!” event was hosted by Dr. Tina Petersen, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, and featured presentations by Rick Jensen, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, and Brandon Dade, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services. Over a thousand people across the district attended the two meetings, one held in English, the other in Spanish.

Dr. Petersen opened the presentation by sharing the two academic options for 2021-2022. Students can either enjoy a return to full in-person instruction or Independent Study.

Students who need to stay home, whether for health reasons, or because the structure works better for their education, can apply for Independent Study. Enrolled students are assigned to one of the designated sites: Cooley Ranch Elementary, Michael D’Arcy Elementary, Ruth O. Harris Middle School, and Colton High School. All textbooks and Chromebooks will be provided by the program through the sites. They will use a virtual format in conjunction with daily, direct instruction from their assigned teachers.

Students in special education interested in Independent Study are required to schedule special meetings with their support teams to make decisions regarding their placement. These meetings will be held when school resumes.

Focus on facilities and masking requirements for staff and students dominated the remainder of the event. According to Mr. Jensen, for the last three months our facilities, maintenance, and grounds crews have been preparing campuses across the district for a full return. In addition to cleaning classrooms and office interiors, all two-student desks have been removed from classrooms to make room for single-person desks with desk shields.

Other site readiness measures include washed exteriors and walkways, adjustments to ventilation and the installation of MERV-11 filters, bipolar ionization units, and locker room air scrubbers. Hand washing and bottle filling stations have been installed at all school sites.

As ideal as his presentation sounded, Mr. Jensen admitted staffing issues have created a problem in getting sites completely ready. He explained during his presentation that the district is filling 45 additional custodial positions. However, when asked how many of those positions have been filled, he responded, “Not as many as we would like . . . probably five of the 45. We are having difficulty finding candidates.”

Mr. Dade’s presentation gave more information about district masking policies. CJUSD will follow California Department of Public Health guidelines and require masking indoors by all employees, students, and visitors. The exceptions to this are students and staff in need of health accommodations or are actively eating and drinking. Outdoor masking is optional.

Masks may be mandatory indoors, but social distancing is not. According to Mr. Dade, as long as masks are being worn, students do not have a minimum distance to maintain.

This leads to questions and concerns about the spread of COVID-19, especially with the rise in cases associated with the Delta variant strain. Parents are encouraged to keep their children home if they are experiencing any number of COVID-19 symptoms, including a fever of 100.4° and higher, chills, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, a sudden loss of taste or smell, among others.

“We are really going to need your help as parents,” Mr. Dade said, urging parents to monitor their children closely.

Many parents seemed to believe exposure to COVID-19 at school is inevitable. One inquired about the district’s plan in the event an increase in Delta variant cases force schools to close again. Mr. Jensen explained, “At this time, distance learning in not an option.” He repeated that parents should keep sick children at home. “If there is an exposure at school, it is possible that class may need to be sent home for 10 days.”

Because of the fears of exposure, other parents pressed administration about protocols for contact tracing in the event of positive tests. Mr. Dade said, “Yes, there will be contact tracing. We have a protocol in place.” Contact tracing will involve anyone who is within six feet of an infected person for longer than 15 minutes.

Not all the information shared provoked so many questions and concerns. As reported in the Pepper Bough, all students will have access to no-cost meals every day during the school year. Parents do not have to complete paperwork, and students will not be required to provide ID numbers prior to receiving food.

In lieu of the free-and-reduced lunch paperwork, Mr. Dade asks that parents complete the voluntary “Data for School Funding” form through the Community Eligibility Program. The data collected by this form ensures our district sites receive the maximum amount of funding for students to eat free.

Parents were also encouraged to take advantage of Parent Portal, an app that allows parents to access their student’s attendance, grades, health, and behavioral information in real time. Those who have used this app in previous years will not need to reapply for access.

The video of this event will be shared via the District webpage by Wednesday.

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