Sacramento County’s school districts were allowed to reopen their campuses with safety measures in place on Oct. 13. That ability is allowed under the state’s reopening plan for counties that have the Red Tier 2 status during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, no reopening date has been set yet for the Elk Grove Unified School District (EGUSD)’s campuses to provide in-person instruction. This district’s 67 schools will continue to provide distance learning for their students in the meantime.

The Elk Grove school board on Oct. 14 reviewed an update of this distance learning program that mainly has students stay home and take online classes. This system has been in effect since early March when Elk Grove Unified officials closed all of their campuses to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The question is,‘Will distance learning be continued through the remainder of the year and the answer is yes,” said Mark Cerruti, the district’s deputy superintendent of education services and schools.

The district assigned more than 42,500 Chromebook laptops and installed 2,500 wifi access spots for students, he reported.

Cerruti noted that the district has increased technology training for teachers and said that school staff members are conducting “virtual home visits” or online meetings with parents.

Trustee Carmine Forcina questioned him on what his staff knows about “lost learning” or the instruction that students lost since they were switched to distance learning during the pandemic.

Cerruti replied that it’s a challenge to determine where a student would academically be during a normal school year of in-person learning versus a year of distance learning.

This June, the school board reviewed a campus reopening plan that would have students return to school under a “hybrid model” that combines online classes with in-person classes that are limited to a few days a week.

Elk Grove Unified officials later this summer decided to only offer distance learning to the district’s 67,000 students, in response to a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases in Sacramento County.

While the Elk Grove school district continues their distance learning service, the Folsom Cordova Unified School District plans to practice their hybrid education model and return their elementary students to school on Nov. 9. Folsom Cordova’s middle school students will follow on Nov. 30, and then high school students on Jan. 4.

One local parent noted this plan in her public comment submitted to the Elk Grove school board in their Oct. 14 meeting.

“I implore you to make a plan to get all of our students into school immediately,” Julia Butz said. “Folsom Cordova already has a plan to get their students to return to campus.”

The school board also heard an anonymous comment that stated, “The district had months to implement procedures to let students back into school once government leaders said it’s okay to do so…Distance learning has been better than nothing, but with so many technological issues, it is far from ideal.”

Plans for ‘cohorts’ of students to return to school

During the school board’s Oct. 14 meeting, the district staff also presented a plan to have small “cohorts” or groups of special education students, homeless students, foster youths, and English language learners return to in-class learning. These students are determined to be at high risk of struggling with their academic work.

The district staff reported that among Elk Grove Unified’s homeless students, 51% of them were chronically absent from school over the past year, and 31% of them failed a course.

“It’s an ongoing issue of just getting students engaged and going to school,” said Florence Oneto, a homeless education liaison for the district. “A lot of our families are feeling overwhelmed.”

She added that many of the families are living in spaces that have Internet connection problems or lack private areas for their children to study.

Under the district’s new plan, the student cohorts would work with paraeducators and tutors when they visit their campuses. The homeless students and foster youths would also continue to undergo distance learning.

“I see this and my heart flutters a bit since it’s actually us getting kids back into our campuses, interacting with our staff, and better supporting them in the learning they’re doing,” Elk Grove Unified’s superintendent, Christopher Hoffman said about the cohort plan.

The district staff waited for board approval before they will later propose a timeline for these cohorts to return to school.

“We don’t have a date on the calendar,” Hoffman said. “If the board is comfortable with this work then we will identify staff and begin the rollout for these programs.”

He added that his staff would ideally like to begin the program in the “next couple of weeks.”

Trustee Tony Perez raised concerned about COVID-19 testing for school employees who will work with the cohorts. Hoffman replied that the employees will be a part of a program that will have them tested on a bimonthly basis.

Rob Pierce, the district’s deputy superintendent of business services and facilities, told the school board there are Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits for every school site and he added that the district has a warehouse to store PPEs for restocking the district.

“I can assure the board and the community that PPE is not going to be an issue for us,” he said.

This month, the school district started allowing cohorts of 10-12 students back to 17 elementary schools to participate in a day camp under the After School Education and Safety program. This grant-funded program aims to support students who are low-performing or are at high risk in learning loss.

District spokesperson Xanthi Pinkerton said that the students also undergo distance learning as well as attending the day camp.