Fall Update – Safety First

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Mendocino County schools will not function as usual when the academic year begins on August 19.

“The first day of school in Point Arena will not be a normal school day — it’s not an option, we don’t have the choice” said Point Arena Schools Superintendent Warren Galletti last Thursday at the Fall 2020 Planning Committee Meeting.

On July 3, the Mendocino County Department of Public Health mandated students who attend class in a school setting must wear a mask and must remain 6’ away from other students and school staff at all times. This mandate will limit physical class size to a maximum of 11 or 12 students, depending on classroom space.

“We’re left with two choices,” said Galletti. “A hybrid model, where students attend class at school half time and attend distance learning at home half time, or a model where students attend school 100% of the time at home through distance learning.”

The July 9 meeting addressed two “big picture” issues — what the available model choices are and who will be responsible for developing the models. The final model decision details will be made at a second meeting, scheduled for July 23, which will be aided by the availability of more data from the County’s Public Health Officer.

At Thursday’s meeting, teachers, school staff from Arena Elementary, Point Arena High, Pacific Community Charter, and community members were invited to participate by voicing their opinions about the appropriate model for school operation this year.

These 21 attendees included school site Principals and Directors, Certificated and Classified Union representatives, a representative from Mendo Health Alliance and the Point Arena School Site Council and three School Board members who also represent a PAHS and an AE parent, and a retired teacher/union representative. Two of the school board members also serve on the District English Learned Advisory Committee (DELAC) and the Native American Educational Advisory Committee (NAEAC).

Galletti began by explaining the results of two voluntary and anonymous surveys, distributed to all parents and staff of Point Arena Schools.
Both surveys, Galletti pointed out, were administered before the recent spike in new Covid cases. According to the surveys, 60% of the schools’ staff were hesitant or uncomfortable returning to teach at school.

In 115 family surveys, 41% were comfortable sending their kids to school, while 34% were uncomfortable or very uncomfortable. A total of 40% preferred the hybrid model, 37% preferred in person and 22% preferred distance learning.

A total of 13 parents said they would not send their students to a physical school setting. “If we decide on the hybrid model,” said Galletti, “we will have to provide an independent study option.”

The survey provided other insights: “The survey showed me people understand how serious this is. They should be worried. They should be vigilant, use face coverings, and be a part of this conversation,” said Point Arena School Board member and Arena Elementary School student parent Sal Pko Martinez.“I definitely feel our communities are being protected because of what our superintendent is saying today.”

Parent and Point Arena Site Council member, Denise Fisher, said she favored the hybrid model. “The success of this school year depends on how well we roll out distance learning. At the same time, I envision every classroom being on video, at every point in time in the school day, seeing students sitting in physical seats, while students are logging in at home on Zoom.”

The schools are working on getting cameras in every classroom, said Galletti. “Teachers have the capabilities, and students will be expected to attend each scheduled class and see a teacher in front of the classroom.” Fisher said she worried about the at-risk students who need to be at school, face-to face with the teachers and staff who offer a safe, supportive environment. “We need that option!”

A hybrid model can meet the needs of the community, said Galletti. “I know for a fact that distance learning is a challenge for students with IEPs and English language learners, and also for the younger grade level students who need stronger teacher support.”

A 100% distance learning model creates other problems. First grade teacher Kelly Gaona said her working parents encountered serious problems with distance learning. Many parents were unable to make a commitment. “Many are still working and can’t hold to these school schedules. Many of their kids can’t get on the computers by themselves.”

In the future, there are hundreds of details to be figured out, said Galletti, no matter what model is chosen. Choir, for example, isn’t allowed, but the schools’ well-loved music program might continue if students could use the gym, library, or auditorium to practice. “We have to be creative,” said Galletti.
At Thursday’s meeting, he asked the principals to prepare hybrid models for the August 19 school opening; models that “emphasize professional development, in-school support, distance learning, and hold students and staff accountable.”

Both principals will share their model plans with the Committee on July 23.
“Our ultimate goal is to keep everybody safe,” said Galletti. “Our second goal is to educate. If our students aren’t safe, what good would education do?”

For more information, contact the individual school site: Scott Carson, Principal at Arena Union Elementary School, 882-2131; Marty Wilkes, Principal at Point Arena High School, 882-2134; Jennifer Ketring, Management Team Chair, Pacific Community Charter School, 353-0143