Fresno Unified School District making preparations for distance learning

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Back to school will look very different this year. Campuses and parking lots will be empty.

To learn at home, Superintendent Bob Nelson is trying to make sure the necessities are covered. They include making sure students have full stomachs and are ready to engage with their new teachers.

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"One of the things we're discussing right now is could they get all of their food in the morning," he said. "If we started teaching classes at 9 a.m., then they could get both breakfast and lunch together in one bundle, take that home for the day."

All students will be able to get food regardless of their family income.

The priority for the largest school district in the Central Valley has been getting students' digital devices and hotspots.

Nelson has been getting the word out on radio and TV about the availability for students who still need either. But he says most students are up and ready.

"The folks that responded back to us, they are at a 97 percent rate," he said.

What the school day will look like is still being discussed with district leaders and the Fresno Teacher's Association. But the district said students in middle and high school can expect two or three block periods a day.

Fresno Unified Junior High and high school students can expect to be online four hours a day, with elementary students for three hours and 50 minutes and kindergartners for three hours.

FTA President Manuel Bonilla says he's working with district leaders now on more specifics. Despite the evolving pandemic, he's been frustrated by a lack of organization and planning.

"We're making sure now that details of a plan actually are developed," he said. "This includes all of the various components, not just general ed, SPED, physical education, our electives, like the arts, very important components."

Translating those subjects and programs to fit the distance learning model is ongoing. District leaders say teachers will give live lessons and students will have the opportunity to complete their assignments.

Nelson is concerned about many families, including lower-income minorities with working parents who are not able to be present as much during the day to provide guidance and direction, as well as troubleshoot any technical issues.

Learning online will have its challenges, especially in the beginning.

"One of the things that worries me too is it's hard to create a relationship with a teacher you've never met," Nelson said. "So how do we get those relationships moving in the front?"

Even though some local school districts have committed to distance learning for one quarter or semester, Nelson isn't willing to do that. He said as soon as it's safe, he wants to get kids back to their school to learn in person.

It means Fresno County first needs to get off of the state's watch list.
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