Mix of excitement and concern after LUSD announces full return to school

Apr. 1—Lodi Unified School District Board of Education president Ron Freitas announced Tuesday night that all students will be back on campus April 12, for full-time instruction, five days a week.

Bargaining units will be given an opportunity to negotiate impacts and effects of this decision, he said during the announcement.

Freitas' announcement comes just a day after students in grades kindergarten through sixth returned to campus in a hybrid learning model.

Last week, the board approved the hybrid model and directed staff to take the necessary steps to bring middle and high school students back to campus as soon as possible.

Dr. Cathy Nichols-Washer, the district's superintendent, said last week she was hoping to have all students back on campus my mid-April.

"We cannot be more excited to share that tonight the Board of Education gave direction to staff to bring all students back to school for full in-person instruction," Nichols-Washer said in an email to parents after the meeting.

"We are grateful to our Board of Education for their commitment to our students and community," she added. "We know that our students will greatly benefit from full time in-person instruction. We know there will be many questions but we wanted to share this happy news with you as soon as possible. We will send additional details to you soon."

Nichols-Washer said Middle College High School students will follow San Joaquin Delta College procedures and schedules, and that a distance learning option will remain available to LUSD students who do not feel comfortable returning to campus.

During Tuesday's meeting, student representatives on the board said there were mixed emotions among secondary students about returning to full-time instruction.

"The idea of going back is super exciting to me, especially being a senior, and (having) graduation and this is my last quarter," Bear Creek High School senior Emma Glanville said. "But I think there's an overall concern for the well-being of students going back into a really big social environment where they haven't been around as many people. Some kids have immune compromisations where they're so worried about getting COVID and it might affect them socially and emotionally."

Glanville said a lot of concern comes from students in multi-family and low-income homes, where several family members would be interacting with various people outside the home, then returning to interact with each other, increasing the chance of contracting COVID-19.

She added that many students may be overwhelmed with returning to a large group after more than a year of social distancing and self-isolating.

"I feel it could be kind of emotionally weighing to send back large groups of students out of the blue in the last quarter, because there hasn't been a lot of social interaction, and the two-day model we had originally was a very good idea because it's like slowly integrating back into being around big groups of people. Then next year everybody will have the opportunity to be around their whole class again."

The hybrid model would have seen students at all grade levels split into two groups, with one group on campus for two alternate days, and the other group engaging in distance learning. All students would have then participated in remote learning on one day of the week.

McNair High School senior Haley Escorpiso said one of her teachers asked students what they thought of returning to campus soon, and the results were split in half.

She said she leaned toward not returning to school, considering there were only two months left in the year, adding the hybrid model made more sense because it limited contact with others.

"I'd rather stay home, stay safe, and wait for graduation," she said. "I do have a big family, and over the past year, I haven't been able to see them as much, and when I do, we're wearing masks in the house. I have a lot of people at risk in the home, two grandparents who are older and an aunt with cancer. My family has been very cautious about being around others."

Harmandeep Batth, a Tokay High School sophomore, said many of his classmates were already wary of returning to campus under the proposed hybrid model, but now a full-time return to campus scares them even more.

"I feel it would be amazing to go back, but safety-wise, I think the hybrid model would fit students better so that we can ease our way back into school," he said. "Someone told me it was unnecessary to go back to school for eight weeks. Students have adjusted to online (learning), and teachers have learned to teach with different styles. Not only are we going back for eight weeks, but we have to readjust to the in-person style."

Parents, on the other hand, were excited their middle and high school students would be going back to school in the coming weeks.

Andrea Moccia said that while there are several varying reports from news media outlets and health experts on whether or not children can contract COVID, she said many are positive that they can return to school and be taught full-time without worrying about contracting the virus and taking it home.

"That's the best outcome I was hoping for from this meeting," she said. "My hope now is that the work really begins. We're excited to go back but there are still challenges that need to be worked out and I hope we can support each other and not undermine each other. I know we have to be forgiving and open-minded and excited and really kind of talk that same language to the kids so they feel safe. And they should feel safe about going to school. I know the concerns out there, but I hope we can keep reassuring them they can go back to school."

Brenda De La Torre asked the board to use the grant funding the district will receive for returning to campus on supplies teachers will need in the classroom. However, she urged the board and district to ask teachers what they need, rather than send them pre-ordered bundles of supplies they may never use.

"I ask you take a heavy look into what teachers need per site, per classroom," she said. "I ask you to not just give them bundles of things they're not going to need, but ask them what they need for students. Each site is different and each child is different. I know our teachers work tremendously hard to give our children an education they deserve. As some people are upset, I know they will do the right thing and put our children first."

The district will receive $9.4 million in grant funds from the state after students returned to campus on March 29, before an April 1 deadline. In addition, the district will also receive $20 million for learning loss and mental health programs for students.

Last week, Nichols-Washer said the funding is part of an overall $6.6 billion grant that replaces Gov. Gavin Newsom's original reopening proposal that was not passed by the state legislature in February.