Some Fresno Unified kids to return to campus starting Monday

The students will be spaced out in cafeterias and other facilities with room for social distancing.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The first small groups of students will begin returning to Fresno Unified campuses on Monday.

Superintendent Bob Nelson says Fresno Unified is taking a very moderate approach to returning to in-person learning.

He said he doesn't want his district to be the first - or the last - to bring back large numbers of students.

But one significant step forward is starting next week.

Starting Monday morning, groups of up to 10 students will be returning to Fresno Unified's elementary campuses, while cohorts of up to 20 will be back at middle and high schools. They've been selected based on the need for safe spaces to learn, access to technology, and other support.

"The three primary groups that are coming back onto our campuses are students with special needs, some of our foster and homeless youth, and some of our English learners," said Nelson.

The students will be spaced out in cafeterias and other facilities with room for social distancing. They will continue to learn through the district's virtual tools, but some staff members will be on hand to help them and monitor their health. Nelson said if this phase goes well and the county's COVID numbers improve, more elementary kids could be back in classrooms using a hybrid model before the end of the semester.

However, that may not be the case for older students.

"We think it's very unlikely our secondary students will be back before the first of the new year because there are still restrictions around cohort mixing. High school is precisely that. It's 6 periods a day, moving through classrooms with different teachers, you're not in a stable cohort of students," he said.

Nelson also said decisions will be made collaboratively with health experts, parents, and staff, and that no one group is refusing to return to in-person learning.

"The response to COVID across every constituency ranges from people who want to go back yesterday to people who will not go back until there's a vaccine. That's true of labor partners, parents, administrators, that's true, you name it. Honestly, I don't think you can pin that on any one constituency group," he said.

Board President and FUSD parent Keshia Thomas agreed the district's goal is to get students back in class as quickly as safely possible.

"With that being said we know there will be some catching up to do and we're already working on that," Thomas said.

The district did apply for a waiver that would allow schools to return regardless of the county's COVID status.

Nelson said all signs indicate they will receive approval soon, which will provide more flexibility with the next steps.
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