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
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