By Collin Breaux

Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) officials described various recommendations for what education could look like for the next school year during a Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, June 17.

Recommendations presented by staff include students in grades K-5 spending half the day with their teacher and the other half with a paraprofessional for additional learning opportunities, or at home learning if the parent chooses that option.

Additional learning could include music and art, similar to middle school electives. Elementary families also have the option of 100% online learning.

“We don’t have the potential or the ability to have students with teachers in the K-5 setting all day long, every day,” said Josh Hill, assistant superintendent for secondary schools. “That would require double the number of teachers that we currently have in our elementary school program. That being said, we wish we did and we would like to do that, but we just don’t have it.”

Recommended options for students in grades 6-12 are a program in which half the curriculum is on-campus and the other half in online independent study, or completely doing learning online. Hill mentioned the possibility of blocked schedules with longer classes, which some high school students currently use.

“The advantage to this is it reduces the need to clean classrooms because students aren’t moving as much, and it provides extended time for staff and teachers to work with students in these settings,” Hill said.

CUSD is aiming for smaller class sizes to adhere to social distancing. Staff emphasized they are continuing to work out details for the coming school year, and the suggestions at the meeting are approximations. CUSD is taking family preferences for morning or afternoon classes into consideration.

The Board of Trustees voted to close schools in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students have since taken part in distance learning at home on computers or other devices.

 “What parents can gauge is their personal household risk in the COVID-19 pandemic,” Board President Jim Reardon said. “I think that’s the basis on which parents need to make a decision on how they want their children to participate in the coming school year. We have many, many families who have reached out and said they can’t send their son or daughter back to school because they’ve got a compromised husband or grandparent in the home.”

According to results of a survey that CUSD sent out, 50% of elementary school families agreed their school did an effective job of implementing distance learning, with 40.4% of middle school families and 36.6% of high school families also agreeing.

A majority of those surveyed said they preferred their child attend school on campus full-time, but were also open to hybrid models in which students go on campus two or three days a week and utilize online learning the remaining days.

Officials emphasized the coming online education would be different from distance learning.

“I do think that it worked well for some students, but clearly for the majority, there were many problems with (distance learning),” Trustee Gila Jones said. “What is being contemplated for next year is not distance learning, even for those that choose the 100% at-home option. We had to close schools all of a sudden last (school) year, and nothing you do all of a sudden ever works out wonderfully well.”

Reopening safety measures will adhere to California Department of Public Health and Orange County Health Care Agency guidelines. Teachers and parents who called in to comment during the June 17 meeting discussed various concerns, including how the suggested education schedules could take instructional responsibility away from teachers.

Another presentation on guidelines and approval of a final plan is expected at a July 15 Board of Trustees meeting. CUSD will continue to communicate with families, and families can make decisions on education options, in the coming weeks. A report regarding implementation is expected at an Aug. 19 meeting. Visit capousd.org for more information.

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