Dear GUSD Families and Staff,
My Friday letter this week is devoted to sharing with you steps the district is taking to prepare for the reopening of GUSD schools. The Reopening Planning Committee members and staff have been working diligently to prepare for a phased-in reopening when the conditions permit so that we will be ready to move as quickly as possible.
Reopening Planning Committee’s Recommendation on When to Reopen GUSD Schools
When these metrics are met, the Reopening Planning Committee will propose further recommendations to the GUSD Board of Education.
At the January 28, 2021 Board meeting, I shared a report with the Board about the district’s reopening plans. The presentation and report can be accessed here: https://www.gilroyunified.org/enroll-in-gusd/reopening-gusd. At the conclusion of my presentation to the Board, I shared the Reopening Planning Committee’s recommendation.
Steps Toward Reopening
Before the District can reopen schools, staff must submit a COVID-19 Safety Plan to the Santa Clara Public Health Department which addresses the topics listed below. The Reopening Planning Committee and district staff are taking many steps to prepare for the eventual reopening of GUSD schools and for submission of GUSD’s COVID-19 Safety Plan. These efforts are aligned with the most recent guidance from California’s Public Health Department which are outlined in the document: COVID-19 and Reopening In-Person Instruction Framework & Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools in California 2020-2021 School Year. The following list outlines important steps being taken to implement the “layers of safety” included in the State guidance.
Face coverings will be required for all transitional kindergarten through 12th grade students and all staff. Face coverings will be worn at all times except during meals and when drinking. The district has a large supply of surgical masks in stock, with many more ordered, particularly, 3-ply surgical masks.
When students and staff return to our schools, the classrooms and daily activities will be organized in such a way as to ensure six-feet of distancing. Desks in classrooms will be six-feet apart, students will be spaced six-feet apart when moving from one location to another and will move in one direction, and classroom cohorts of students will be assigned to designated areas for meals and recess. Grab and go meals will be served outdoors when possible. Protocols will be followed to promote social distancing in restrooms. Students will not be allowed to share materials, equipment or computers.
In-Person Instruction and Stable Groups
Per the California Public Health Department, stable groups and social distancing are key mitigation measures in the return of students to schools. Therefore, GUSD students will return to in-person learning in a hybrid program when the health metrics are met. The instructional program will be phased-in and will be a mix of in-person instruction at school sites and distance learning instruction in homes. Based upon the current guidelines set forth by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, schools will only be able to reopen with limited numbers of students. This means that only a small percentage of students will be able to attend school at any given time in order to maintain safe social distancing standards.
In-Person Instruction and Stable Groups (Elementary School)
When elementary students return to school, they will be placed in cohorts of 12-14 students with their classroom teacher. The Teaching and Learning Subcommittee of the Reopening Planning Committee has been meeting regularly and actively planning for a phased-in elementary model that offers a combination of distance learning and in-person instruction for a part of the day or two-three days a week. The model will allow for students to remain in stable groups of students for the in-person sessions. The committee has considered the needs of students, families and staff while designing a model that maximizes student-teacher interaction.
The hybrid model for elementary school students will comply with all health and safety guidelines contained in the state-required COVID-19 Safety Plan, and will include measures such as assigned desks and work areas, grab-and-go meals, cleaning between groups of students, and procedures for entry/exit at school sites.
The hybrid instructional model will also support students with IEPs and those who receive specialized services. Planning is underway for implementation of a summer program for students identified for targeted intervention, including students that are eligible for Extended School Year services in accordance with their Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
In Person Instruction and Stable Groups (Middle and High School)
At the middle and high school levels, students will attend school in-person in a hybrid learning model one or two days per week with all other days being in distance learning in their homes. Middle and high school students will not see all of their teachers when they attend in person. They will likely attend two periods in-person, 1-2 times per week, receive a grab-and-go lunch, and then go home to attend additional distance learning classes. Asynchronous (on-demand and independent) assignments will be assigned to cohorts when they are not in the live, in-person, in-school sessions. Students will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing at all times while on campus.
As part of the COVID-19 Safety Plan, the district will consult with our labor groups in the next phase of the planning process regarding plans for reopening.
Additionally, we understand that some parents may not wish to send their students back to school, and the district will continue to offer a distance learning option. As always, while designing these plans, the safety of our students and staff remains our highest priority.
Ventilation and Air Circulation
The Santa Clara County and California Public Health Departments and the Santa Clara County Office of Education recommend that districts evaluate and repair, as needed, all of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units and implement other air circulation mitigation measures. In December, the district assembled an expert team of engineers and HVAC specialists to upgrade all 1,200 HVAC units in the district. This work began in mid-December and will likely be completed by April. The study is being conducted in three phases:
- Phase I: The schools in the first phase are those that house the Distancing Learning Access Centers where students who do not have internet attend so that they can participate in distance learning. These schools are Glen View and Rucker Elementary Schools, and Gilroy, Christopher and Mt. Madonna High Schools.
- Phase II: Work will commence on the remaining elementary schools in the district, following the completion of Phase I: Eliot, El Roble, Las Animas, Luigi Aprea, and Rod Kelley Elementary Schools.
- Phase III: The middle schools will be completed in Phase III: Brownell, Solorsano and South Valley Middle Schools, following the completion of Phases I and II. GECA and other district buildings will also be completed in this phase.
GUSD HVAC units will be set to circulate air for about 10 hours a day, while teachers will be directed to keep windows and doors open, and fans will be provided where needed to move the air. Additionally, HEPA filters have been purchased and installation is ongoing for classrooms and offices as recommended by the expert team.
Protocols for Entry on Campuses
Protocols for staff entering campuses have been implemented at all district buildings and school sites. Staff members currently working in district buildings are providing a daily electronic certification that they are not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms and have not had exposure to anyone who has tested positive for the virus. Handwashing stations have been installed at all campus entrances. Staff are staying six feet apart and wear masks when on campus. Staff break areas are closed. These procedures will continue when all staff return.
In addition, our nurses have developed extensive protocols for students entering our campuses. These procedures will be shared with students and parents in the near future. Parents will be asked to conduct a daily health screening and certify that their child does not have COVID-19 symptoms. Entry points to the campuses will be limited and each entry point will be staffed adequately to monitor students coming on campus. Student’s daily health screening certifications will be verified and they will wash their hands prior to entering campus, and throughout the day. Paths of travel to classrooms will be clearly marked and our staff will monitor the six-feet distancing requirement at all times.
Cleaning and Disinfecting
Custodians are following protocols and procedures that have been developed to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus following the guidance from the Public Health Department, including: frequent cleaning of surfaces touched by students or staff such as desks, tables, and door handles and thorough cleanings after students and staff leave.
Symptoms and Exposure Screenings
The district nurses have developed protocols and procedures for screening symptoms and for minimizing exposure. Each school has separate areas for isolating students who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms while on campus. Personal protective equipment (PPE), including N95 masks, face shields and gowns, have been purchased for the nurses. Additional thermometers have been purchased. Reporting and quarantine protocols are in place.
The California Public Health Department (CDPH) recommends regular COVID19 testing, as frequently as weekly. There are many questions from schools districts about this recommendation and districts are waiting for further guidance about this recommendation. Specific questions districts are asking of Public Health include how often testing will be conducted, who will do the testing, and how will testing be funded.
Vaccination centers on GUSD campuses
One of the surest ways of reopening schools is to vaccinate our staff and as many Gilroy residents as possible. I am pleased to announce that the Gilroy Unified School District will be hosting the first large scale vaccination center in South County at Gilroy High School. The center will be operated by Santa Clara County and Valley Medical staff. The center will open in early March. We are urging everyone who is currently eligible for the vaccine, to schedule an appointment using this link: sccfreevax.org.
Currently, the County is vaccinating people 65 and older, medical personnel and people living in long-term care facilities. The 1B vaccination phase, which is next, will include staff who work in public schools and I am urging all staff to get vaccinated when their turn comes. We are also in negotiations with another agency to open a second vaccination center in one of our schools. The Public Health Department has a goal of providing over 1,000 vaccinations per day to our community from the Gilroy High School vaccination center.
Finally, as we all take some much-needed time away from screens next week during Winter Break, please remember that there is no food service on our campuses the week of February 15-19.
As we approach over 300 days of our schools being closed to in-person learning, I understand that the ongoing uncertainty and the myriad of challenges we are facing is wearing on all of us. We miss our students and staff greatly and look forward to their return. I can assure you that we are working very hard to meet all the criteria to reopen, even though some factors are not within our control, e.g. number of COVID19 cases. I am encouraged by the recent decrease in COVID-19 cases in South County and hope this continues. The new vaccination center at Gilroy High School will make a big difference in restoring the health of our community.
I hope you enjoy your winter break and get some time to unwind. School resumes on February 22. Please continue to wear your masks, wash your hands, remain socially distant, and encourage your family and friends to get vaccinated when they’re eligible. We will make it through this.
Take care of each other,
Dr. Deborah A. Flores, Ph.D.
GIlroy Unified School District
Dear GUSD staff and families:
It looks like the sun will be out just in time for the weekend. I am always grateful for the rain, because we need it, but I’m grateful for the sunshine so that I can get outside and move. I hope that you are also able to enjoy the crisp winter weather this weekend. I have a number of GUSD updates to share with you today. I hope this week’s letter can answer questions that you may have regarding end of the year celebrations; recommendations that I provided to the Board of Education regarding reopening the district to in-person learning; new food service schedules in the district; updates on high school athletics, and upcoming events for our families and students.
Recommendation to the Board of Education regarding returning to in-person learning
At last night’s Board meeting, I gave a presentation to the Board about the topic of reopening schools. You can view video from last night’s meeting and the entire presentation on the GUSD website. As part of the presentation to the Board of Education, I shared COVID-19 data for Gilroy, reviewed the recently released guidance from the California Public Health Department, discussed steps the district is taking to prepare for an eventual reopening, and shared the Reopening Planning Committee’s recommendation for next steps.
The Reopening Planning Committee recommended that all GUSD schools remain in distance learning and that the decision about if and when to reopen schools be reconsidered when:
- Santa Clara County has been in the Red Tier for five consecutive days, and,
- When the COVID19 case rate in Gilroy is below 25 per 100,000 for five consecutive days
When these conditions have been met, the Reopening Planning Committee will develop additional recommendations related to if and when schools should reopen this school year and in what model. This 30+ person committee has been meeting since May and has discussed many topics related to the reopening including those outlined in the State’s recent guidance; mandatory face coverings, physical distancing of 6 feet, maximizing ventilation, handwashing protocols, cleaning and disinfecting procedures, symptoms and close contact screening, surveillance and screening testing, and training for everyone.
At this time, the district is unable to certify to the SCC Public Health Department that all the conditions spelled out in the State’s Public Health Department report can be met and therefore, we cannot resume in-person learning. For instance, the district has hired an expert team to assess all 1200 HVAC units in the district and to make repairs as necessary. Testing of students and staff and vaccinating staff have recently become major issues that need to be resolved by the State. Districts simply cannot afford to take on these tasks without a major influx of funding from the State to cover the costs.
High School Graduation Celebrations
In order to provide the Class of 2021 with a celebratory send-off as they complete high school, we have begun planning for graduation. Each high school and our Adult Education program will have a virtual ceremony available on their official graduation day that will include many of the traditional elements of a graduation ceremony. In addition to the virtual ceremony, we will be planning for multiple scenarios for all students to receive their diploma, have a cap and gown photo opportunity and celebrate their achievements. Senior awards nights will also be held virtually this year. All details about end-of-year celebrations will be based upon State and County Public Health guidelines in order to keep our community safe. More information will be provided by each site principal as we approach graduation.
In the meantime, I invite families of the Class of 2021 to begin reviewing what is needed for the end of the year. Our high schools have informational pages on their websites to help in the planning process.
Eighth Grade End of Year Celebrations
As a District, we are creating new traditions for our middle schools. Beginning this year we will move away from the Promotion Ceremonies that were held at our high schools and moving toward more personalized celebrations. Each school will hold eighth grade celebrations as well as other activities to congratulate students for their accomplishments during their middle school years. These celebrations will be held virtually for the 2020-21 school year and at individual school sites in subsequent years. We are excited about the personal touch these celebrations will bring by having students at their own school site with the community that has encouraged and supported them throughout their middle school experience.
Return to High School Athletics
Gilroy Unified School District is excited to announce that athletic conditioning will begin soon at our comprehensive high schools. You will be receiving specific information from each high school next week regarding start dates and requirements for each sport. Practices will also begin for Season 1 sports which will be permitted to conduct either “normal” or “limited” activities, coinciding with the county’s color tiered system developed by the California Department of Public Health. Visit The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Sports Covid-19 Guidelines for more information on sports and the tiered system.
Health and Safety Are Priorities
Our athletic programs have successfully offered conditioning cohorts since June 2020. Our coaching staff and student-athletes have done a fantastic job of following established district guidelines and protocols to ensure that safety is our top priority while participating in our conditioning cohorts and this will continue as we begin the first season of fall sports. Gilroy Unified School District is dedicated to offering a safe environment to reconnect our student-athletes to our campus, providing athletic conditioning and skill development, and positive mentorship through their participation.
New Food Service Schedule
This week, the Gilroy Unified School District began a new food distribution schedule. Beginning Tuesday, January 26, FREE meals for all Gilroy children ages 0-18, will be served from noon-2 p.m. on TUESDAYS and FRIDAYS only at the following schools:
- Eliot Elementary
- Glen View Elementary
- Luigi Aprea Elementary
- Rod Kelley Elementary
- South Valley Middle
- Solorsano Middle
In addition, FREE meals will be served from 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. TUESDAY and FRIDAY at Rucker Elementary.
Meals will no longer be distributed Monday through Friday. Instead, Tuesday meal bags will have meals through Friday morning and Friday meal bags will have meals through Tuesday morning. Children are still receiving meals for all seven days of the week (breakfast, lunch and supper).
A parent or guardian can pick up bags for children in their household. No identification is necessary. For more information, please visit our website or call 669-205-4044.
Upcoming District-wide events
I am pleased to share with you that two events that are long standing traditions in our District, will happen virtually this year. Our elementary school communities will celebrate Read Across America the week of March 1. Details are still being finalized, but we are excited to see how this virtual event will unfold in our elementary school classrooms.
Finally, my favorite tradition in our District, the annual Run for Fitness, will also happen this year, but as a virtual “Move for Fitness” event! On March 13, students and families from throughout the District are invited to move their bodies in whatever ways they are able to do. We will have more information on this event soon as well, so mark your calendars and stay tuned!
I was so moved by the Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, who delivered “The Hill We Climb” at the Presidential Inauguration on January 20, and the way her words so powerfully captured the gravity of the moment. However, her poem also beautifully conveyed a message of hope to us beyond politics in our country. These words struck me most specifically:
...Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried…
...For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us…
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be…
...For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it
If only we're brave enough to be it…
While the many challenges we face sometimes seem to drown out our collective successes, I continue to be inspired by the bravery of our students, the commitment of our staff, and the steadfast dedication of the community that surrounds us.
Take care of each other,
Dr. Deborah Flores
Gilroy Unified School District
Dear GUSD Parents and Staff,
I hope you had a wonderful winter holiday season and Happy New Year! I am optimistic about the year ahead.
I want to acknowledge our staff for the great job they are doing in distance learning and the virtual environment. I have been visiting schools sites (virtually) throughout the pandemic and I am so impressed with the quality of instruction and the high level of technology skills demonstrated by our teachers and paraprofessionals. I also know that families have played a critical role in the success of the program by supporting children in distance learning. Thank you for your continued commitment and contributions to your child’s education. Our support staff are also doing all they can to support our students and families.
As you probably know, the Stay-at-Home Order has been extended indefinitely, and Santa Clara County is still in the Purple Tier due to the high number of COVID-19 cases and the lack of ICU beds in the hospitals. There have been 5,858 COVID-19 cases in Gilroy and we have the highest case rate - 10,550 per 100,000 - in the County (which is almost double the rate in San Jose). On a daily basis for the past 4-5 weeks, staff have been reporting to our Human Resources Department that they have tested positive for COVID-19 or someone in their home has tested positive including some children. These are challenging times for our district, city, county, state and nation. Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon in the form of a vaccine, which hopefully, will be available to educators by the spring and most Californians by the summer.
You may have heard the Governor talk about his Safe Schools for All proposal last week which would provide incentives to districts to reopen elementary schools. The cost of this proposal is $2 billion and will need to be approved by two-thirds of the legislature to be enacted. Districts with COVID-19 case rates that exceed 25 per 100,000 are not eligible to receive these funds. Gilroy’s case rate is far above this and as a result, we are not eligible to receive this funding if it is approved by the legislature.
Although it appears it will be some time before the district can reopen, the Reopening Planning Committee continues to meet monthly and discuss a number of topics related to reopening. Staff is also working diligently on issues that must be addressed or in place before schools can reopen. For instance, the district has contracted with an expert team to assess all 1,200 of the HVAC units in the district to ensure that they are providing the best air quality possible in our classrooms and in all district buildings. This process began in December and at this point, three schools have been completed. I will be providing the school board with an update about the reopening planning process at the January 28, 2021 Board meeting. I invite you to join us virtually for the meeting at 7:00 pm. The meeting will livestream on the District’s Facebook page, and you don’t need a Facebook account to watch the meeting: .
Here are some district-wide updates for you:
- There is no school for students on Monday, January 18 in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
- There is also no meal service at GUSD school sites on Monday, January 18 and Friday, January 22.
- There is no school for most students on Friday, January 22 because it is a staff development day. GECA classes are in session.
- Given the extended shelter-in-place order and the high COVID-19 case counts in Gilroy, all upcoming material and textbook distributions will be contactless. Your school’s principal will communicate specifics with you as details are finalized. As always, when you visit our school sites, please wear a mask and respect social distancing in order to ensure the safety of our staff, students and families.
Finally, as I reflect on the events that took place in our Nation’s capital over the last two weeks, I can’t help but wonder how our students might be feeling. The images of the unrest in our nation’s capital are unsettling and may be frightening for some, regardless of where they may lie on the political spectrum. I want our students to know that our schools are a safe space and a place for support and they should feel comfortable asking questions and expressing their thoughts, concerns or fears.
Below are some resources that may be helpful as we continue to have conversations in the future. As history continues to unfold and is coupled with the uncertainty we’ve been experiencing for the last year, I urge you to take appropriate breaks from media and television and to prioritize your mental health and that of your children.
- GUSD Resources for Parents with School-Age Children
- Helping Children Cope
- Having Difficult Conversations with your Child
- Supporting Your Child's Mental Health
I believe this is a moment for our students, and all of us, to reflect on and learn from what we are experiencing as a nation. The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the way we cope with adversity - a fundamental skill that we try to instill in our students. It also reinforces how important the work we are doing at our schools is, to teach empathy, compassion, social-emotional competencies, and to learn how to cope with the challenges we are facing.
So while wrestling with the tumultuous times in our current experience, I take comfort in collective work of the teachers, staff members and leaders in GUSD. The community we have built together and the values we hold in high regard as a District - community, equity and joy - reflect the best of who we are as a country.
Take care of each other,
Dr. Deborah A Flores, Ph.D.
Gilroy Unified School District
Dear GUSD families,
We have officially crossed a mythical finish line as we say good-bye to the first semester of the 2020-21 school year. What an adventure it has been! I know the last four months have been challenging in so many ways, but it’s important that we acknowledge the lessons we all have learned and celebrate our successes as we look back. As a Superintendent for 21 years, I never would have imagined that we could have transitioned almost 11,000 students and more than 550 teachers and countless other support staff members to a fully virtual educational platform, and yet we have. Our students have demonstrated resiliency and flexibility, and have shown that their grasp of technology extends far beyond a video game console or tablet, even at our earliest grade levels. Our teachers have consistently amazed me with their commitment to our students and their ability to connect with them on many levels even in a virtual classroom. Our district leaders and other staff members have stepped up in so many ways, and filled roles beyond their job descriptions and occasionally beyond their comfort levels, all to ensure that our district and school communities can continue to operate effectively and provide an excellent education for our students. And our families have given their unwavering support, constant encouragement, and endless hours to support their children and our employees. I am so grateful for all of your contributions as we continue on this journey.
As we transition to this well-deserved holiday break and two glorious weeks off, I hope you’ll take time to breathe. Final assignments, tests and projects have been completed. Enjoy the small moments with your children over these next two weeks, together, and at home. There are many memories to create. While this holiday season certainly looks different than we ever could have imagined, I hope you will all commit to staying home, with just the people in your household, as we try to slow the spread of the virus. I know we are all missing the familiarity and connection of the holiday season, but it is so important to remember that the choices we make now will have a great impact in the future.
We are all looking for answers to the questions that hang overhead. I wish we had answers for them, but I know that the guidance of the medical professionals and scientists who are experts are giving us the tools we need to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19.
As we look toward 2021, my hope for all of you is continued health and grace. I know that parenting in a pandemic, with children at home, while trying to fulfill your other duties as a spouse, employee, and caretaker, comes with no instruction manual. I hope you’ll allow yourself the occasional misstep and learning opportunity as you do with your children. You are your children’s greatest teacher and you are doing the best that you can for them.
My thoughts are with each of you this holiday season. I hope you find time to connect, laugh and celebrate all that we are blessed with, even as this holiday season is so different than the ones we are used to enjoying. My hope is that 2021 brings us more answers than questions, and more peace than uncertainty.
Have a wonderful holiday and a blessed new year.
Deborah A. Flores
Gilroy Unified School District
The Gilroy Chamber of Commerce has named Superintendent Deborah A. Flores the 2021 Spice of Life Woman of the Year. Dr. Flores joins a number of other 2021 awardees who will be announced in the coming weeks, including the Educator of the Year and Susan B. Valenta Youth Leadership award winner. The announcement was made at the December 16 Chamber breakfast.
Chamber CEO, Mark Turner, shared these words during his announcement: "This has been a difficult year, a challenging year in every aspect, for every family, for schools, for school children, for school teachers and it takes a lot of work and effort to direct an organization as large as the school district in order to turn on a dime, almost overnight, [and] change the way operations are going. And the leader of that organization, Debbie Flores, is our Woman of the Year! Congratulations Debbie. We appreciate all of the work you are doing and all that goes into what you do. This is well-deserved and a long time coming."
Following the surprise announcement, Dr. Flores shared, "I am so honored. I'm so appreciative. The incredible job we've done has been the biggest team effort I've ever been a part of. I am so proud of the District staff and the way they have responded to this pandemic. They are amazing. Thank you so much. It means a lot to me."
Debbie Flores is the longest serving superintendent in Santa Clara County. She began her career in GUSD in July 2007. She has been a superintendent for 20 years and has worked in public schools for over 40 years.
View Dr. Flores' full bio here.
For media requests regarding the Gilroy Unified School District, school sites, staff and/ or students, please contact Melanie Corona, Public Information Officer, 669.205.4095 or email@example.com.