By Patricia Holloway, CUSD Trustee
On March 16, Capistrano Unified School District, serving 47,000 students in South Orange County, closed its classrooms to slow the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus and to keep our children, staff, and communities safe.
Soon thereafter, CUSD initiated “distance learning,” or online instruction via the Internet. Our Board of Trustees held a public meeting on Wednesday, April 15, to discuss extending distance learning and campus closures through the end of this school year.
This is the new reality facing our kids. Although distance learning is taking place between teachers and students working from home, we understand this is not ideal. As comfortable as we’ve become incorporating technology and computer-learning into our classrooms, K-12 instruction is fundamentally a people-oriented profession.
Educators recognize that for many families, the kitchen table has become not just the home office, but a classroom, library and computer lab. Parents are participating in their kids’ day-to-day education in a way that brings new meaning to the term “home schooling.”
To high school seniors, school closures have been the hardest on you. I’ve received letters from students and parents heartbroken over the end of the sports season, for cancellation of spring concerts, drama performances, and some senior-year activities that students have looked forward to all year. Add to this the stress of final exams, advanced placement tests, college entrance exams—all being conducted in an entirely online world.
So how do we make this better?
The good news is, much is being done and students are genuinely responding well. Caring teachers and staff have made unprecedented efforts to institute meaningful, engaging, standards-based online learning for every grade level.
Routines and rhythms of the school day are being maintained whenever possible, from kindergarten through 12th grade, to provide structure and familiarity. For families without computers or Internet access at home, the district is loaning out computers and modems.
Though challenging, children with special needs, from autism to Down syndrome, are also continuing to receive services from their teachers online.
Children who depend on school for free or reduced-price meals are still being fed. Bag meals are provided to families on a drive-through basis at sites throughout CUSD, including two schools in San Clemente. More than 80,000 breakfasts and lunches have been distributed.
Grading is another concern. The board will consider this month how to temporarily modify the current grading system in a way that will “do no harm” to students or weaken their prospects to attend the college or university of their choice.
Of course, the big question for seniors: Will there be a traditional graduation ceremony June 4? The board has not yet decided whether there will be an in-person graduation then or later, or if there will be alternative arrangements for safely celebrating their accomplishments.
A final decision will be made April 29, and while we can’t guarantee the format, we promise to do our best to make this celebration fun and meaningful. Surveys have been sent to 700 San Clemente High School seniors and their families to gather their valuable input on potential scenarios for graduation day.
CUSD teachers, principals and staff are doing everything possible to support students academically and emotionally during this difficult time. Every day, we see that children are caring, adaptable and resilient. If we adults can model this behavior with love and good humor, it will be among the most important life lessons we can share with our kids.
Patricia Holloway is a trustee for the Capistrano Unified School District, representing San Clemente. The views she expresses are her own. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.