School Board votes to seek waiver for in-person learning, hears presentation on distance learning and environmental safety

Julie Reichle

Elementary schools in Piedmont may start to welcome students back this month.

Editor’s note/update: On October 1, the Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD)  issued a press release stating that starting October 13 elementary schools may reopen. “The decision and timing of when to open rests with each school and school district, and schools are not required to open if not ready.” In an email sent to PUSD families on Friday, Oct. 2, PUSD Superintendent Randy Booker said he would schedule a special board meeting next week to “publicly discuss reopening steps as it first applies to our elementary students and staff.” The special board meeting will take place Oct. 6 at 6 p.m. (See agenda here.)

At the Board of Education meeting on Sept. 23, Superintendent Randall Booker announced that Alameda County entered the red tier in COVID-19 risk level, moving from “widespread risk” to “substantial risk”.

In order for PUSD to reopen, Alameda County must remain in the red tier for two weeks, the district will need the Alameda County Health Director to approve the reopening of schools, and the Board must authorize the reopening plan for the school. 

“The Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD) has the authority to take a more incremental approach to re-opening in an effort to minimize significant increases in disease transmission, even as the county meets the state’s less restrictive criteria,” according to a press release from the Alameda County Superintendent.

However, Booker said that he does not anticipate schools reopening by Oct. 6 or 7, which would mark the two week requirement. To reopen, PUSD must meet very specific guidelines, which ACPHD offered in regards to reopening procedures, following their announcement of the county’s risk level.

“It remains to be seen how the public health director and how the county superintendent look to develop a phased reopening plan for schools,” Booker said.

The press release also stated that the ACPHD would release a phased plan for reopening that includes schools once the county passes the two week mark on Oct. 6, in order to ensure that the county’s metrics remain in the red tier.

Due to the likelihood of a reopening date in the near future, Booker also recommended to the Board that the district not pursue the TK-6 waiver application. The Board voted 3 – 2 anyway to submit a waiver application, arguing that having a waiver would offer a safety net in case the county’s numbers spike in the future. 

PUSD previously submitted an application interest form on Sept. 11, which was required to receive an application for the waiver. The interest form was approved by the Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD), and PUSD then received the official waiver application, which is due in October.

ACPHD issued a checklist of items that need to be addressed as a part of the school reopening plan, many of which have already been addressed in MOUs and the Board’s discussions. 

The two biggest items on that list, Booker said, are a screening app for students and testing for staff. 

Booker said that the district has met with vendors who can provide a screening tool app for all students and that the district is also working with Kaiser and third party vendors to test staff once every two months. Both of these criteria could be completed by the end of this week.

No other public schools in Alameda County have applied for a waiver yet, due to different concerns. One of these concerns is timeliness, since ACPHD will need at least five weeks to process applications and either approve or deny PUSD’s request. As a result, the district would receive a response sometime in November.

Booker said that if the District does not submit an initial waiver application, ACPHD will offer a second window of applications in November for schools that did not submit a primary application.

The waiver application is not necessary in order to welcome special education students back onto campus. In fact, the district is currently allowed to have special education and acute learners on campus, but PUSD may have to bargain to bring them back. However, there are no restrictions in terms of state or county regulations.

Board hears presentations on distance learning and environmental safety

Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Wozniak shared a presentation detailing the Distance Learning Continuity Plan, which will replace the district’s strategic plan, Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) for the 2020-21 school year only.

“This is a one year plan that meets the state requirements as a result of the impact of COVID-19,” Wozniak said.

The goal of the one-year plan is to balance the needs of educators, parents, students, and community members, while simultaneously streamlining engagement and incorporating several preexisting district plans, including special education and PUSD budget.

The Board also heard a presentation on environmental safety. Booker presented Board Policy 3514: Environmental Safety, which addresses the air quality concerns often presented by the California fires.

This policy is an updated version of previous district policies, stating that if air quality is between 101 and 150, all P.E. classes will be held indoors, and all strenuous activities and sports will be canceled.

“This is assuming an in-person environment, but even in a distance-learning one, we have students participating in P.E.,” Booker said, explaining the necessity of the updated policy.

The plan also states that if the air quality exceeds 150, all PUSD employees will be encouraged to use respirator masks when working outdoors. In a distance learning model, if the air quality reaches 200, employees will no longer work outdoors and will return to remote instruction at home. 

In an in-person or hybrid model, if the air quality reaches 200, the superintendent will meet with the Board of Education and the Alameda County Superintendent to determine if a school closure is warranted.

Next meetings

A special board meeting will be held Oct. 6 regarding the phased reopening of schools.

School reopening is the only item on the agenda: “It is recommended the Board take the following actions related to the reopening of schools: 1) Authorize allowable student contact and on-site participation for activities, 2) Authorize staff to implement a hybrid/modified, staggered in-person return at the elementary level, 3) Authorize elementary family choice between hybrid/modified return and full-year distance learning programs.”

See the agenda HERE.

The next regular Board of Education meeting will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 7 via Zoom.

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