California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond gives update on reopening schools

Thursday, May 28, 2020
CA State Superintendent gives update on reopening schools
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Educators around the state are using the summer to prepare for what will likely be a very unconventional back-to-school season this year.

SAN FRANCISCO (KFSN) -- For students who are succeeding at distance learning, classes could look like that next school year.

"The more distance learning we're doing, that means we can have fewer students on campus, and that means we can have smaller class sizes, which is going to be important," says State Superintendent Tony Thurmond.

During a virtual news conference on Wednesday, Thurmond called on companies to help the state come up with $500 million to provide digital devices and internet access to students.

"We've got to draw a line in the sand and close that digital divide, and we're saying we need help from everyone to make that happen," he said.

The state's top education leader says he will be providing guidelines in early June for the reopening of schools.

Each district will decide how that looks and who will be first to return to campus.

Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson is mulling over several options that would mean bringing some students back, or alternating times or days with in-class instruction.

Masks will be required of teachers and students, just one hurdle Nelson said will be expensive and a difficult change for young students.

"There has to be some realism in what we can allow," Nelson said. "Some students will be able to do it and some will not, and we will strive to make it good. If we're doing 70,000 masks a day, just the cost of making sure everybody has adequate PPE for a district our size is exorbitantly high."

Since the pandemic began, Fresno Unified has handed out 53,000 devices to help with distance learning. Sharing bandwidth at home has been one of the challenges students and parents have reported.

For the past several years, Sanger Unified has issued iPads to students in middle school and high school to take home. When schools closed, iPads were provided to elementary students too.

Hotspots were also made available for those without WiFi.

Sanger Unified superintendent Adela Jones is looking at a hybrid or blended learning model to initially start the school year, but parents will also be surveyed to give their input.

"If we go to an A-B model, two days a week students are in class and then leaving Friday's for tutorials or our higher-need kids," she said.

For both districts, figuring out ways to keep kids protected and apart is another obstacle, especially during recess, breaks and lunch.

One of the big challenges for both school districts is the issue of buses. When practicing social distancing, only nine students can fit on a standard school bus.

Adding routes will be expensive and potentially not even possible.

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