Like everything, MDUSD school campus reopening plans bow to pandemic status

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY—This is an update to the School News story running in the Dec.11 Pioneer.

This Wednesday, Superintendent Adam Clark issued a letter to Mt. Diablo Unified School District parents/guardians and staff outlining citing new information from state and local health authorities that ultimately informed his recommendation to postpone reopening.

Dr. Adam Clark

   I hope this message finds you well during this challenging time. As you may recall, we made a commitment to our families to partially open schools on January 11, 2021. Over the weekend, we received the sobering but not surprising news that Contra Costa County residents will need to adhere to the State’s Regional Stay at Home Order. This news along with worsening pandemic trends will affect the timing of our direction as a district, like many districts across the state.

Opening our schools in a manner that protects the health and safety of students and staff is our number one priority. Currently, according to the Contra Costa County Department of Public Health, Contra Costa County remains in the Purple Tier, indicating “widespread” COVID-19 as measured by testing positivity rates, hospitalizations and ICU rates. Additionally, health officials are warning that a holiday surge of the virus may lead to a significant increase in hospitalizations. These factors are further compounded with the onset of what is expected to be a serious flu season that may further complicate contact tracing.

Thus, out of an abundance of caution, at the Dec. 14 Board of Education meeting, I will be recommending that our schools remain closed until a re-evaluation takes place at our Jan. 13 board meeting. If the Board agrees with this recommendation, students will remain in distance learning, then we will re-evaluate on Jan. 13 when to partially open schools.

Our Board had the foresight to continue a 100% Distance Learning Model for our students in grades TK-12 until the end of the first semester—at a minimum—as the concurrent COVID-19 data pointed to a surge heading into winter break; the magnitude of what is happening now is even graver than what the experts had anticipated.

I know that this pandemic has created hardships for many of our students and families and that for many this is not the news they hoped to hear. However, please know that this recommendation is solely based on our desire to keep our students, staff, and families as safe as possible. Thank you, as always, for your continued support and understanding during these challenging times.

Superintendent Adam Clark, Ed.D.

Reopening goals

Clark’s weekly report last Friday started, “Let us be clear about where we are with our reopening goals, as January remains our target to bring a hybrid model option. Serving students safely is our priority.”

In light of all the current uncertainty with the coronavirus pandemic he said, “We believe we can safely introduce a hybrid model option. We also believe we can maintain a 100% distance learning option. Of course, more than a belief, we have been busy working out details, diligently planning for a January hybrid model option. Our consistent planning efforts have put a January hybrid model option within reach.”

Then came the “but” when Clark explained there are two remaining factors shaping the services MDUSD is able to offer: local pandemic restrictions and negotiations with union partners.

California Governor, Gavin Newsom

Putting aside those pesky negotiations with teachers and other unions, the school board and Clark are held to what Governor Gavin Newsom, California Department of Public Health and Contra Costa County feel is safe and appropriate for on-campus instruction. With the alarming spike in cases since October, Newsom last week issued a stay-at-home order which is already in effect in Contra Costa until at least Jan 4.

Clark said, “The effects of local pandemic restrictions are static, meaning that we have already defined what services we intend to offer within various county pandemic tiers. The Yellow, Orange and Red Tier restrictions would allow us to introduce a hybrid model option. Purple Tier (worst tier) would not allow us to introduce a hybrid model option, but limited campus services could still take place.”

Service to students

District and Mt. Diablo Education Association negotiators met last Wednesday for 4-1/2 hours in continuing talks. The Superintendent said, “The effects of negotiations with our unions are dynamic, meaning we must come to an agreement with our union partners about how service to students will be characterized.”

MDUSD has been formulating plans for a hybrid learning program combining on-campus and distance learning beginning Jan. 11. Clayton Valley Charter, Carondelet and De La Salle had already transitioned from all distance learning to various forms of hybrid education for its high school students and thus are allowed to continue with their programs.

The governor’s recent orders halted schools or districts not already having on-campus learning from doing so at this time.

The MDUSD reopening plan implementation starts with small groups of students coming on campus. The plan had called for TK, kindergarten and grades 1, 6 and 9 to begin a hybrid learning model Jan 11. Grades 2, 3, 7 and 10 had start date of Jan. 19 and grades 4, 5, 8, 11 and 12 beginning begin their hybrid learning model Jan 25. All of this is subject to change.