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Update to the Community - Sept. 18

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In July, the Board of Education approved staff’s recommendation to adopt a range of instructional models to implement as health conditions change and the state ordered that schools start the year in a distance learning model. Now, with the first month of school in a distance learning format complete, we want to provide an update on our current efforts, our planning and our next steps to be ready for an eventual return to in-person instruction when it is safe for our students, staff and community to do so. 

In this update you will find information on:

Current Conditions & the State’s Ranking System 

California has introduced a system that ranks each county for its risk level of COVID-19 spread. Currently, Sacramento County remains at the highest risk level, purple or ‘widespread’. Other than through waivers to open K-6 schools and providing services for specific students in small groups (discussed below), schools are not allowed to open when a county is ranked in the purple/widespread range. To open schools, a county must move into the red or ‘substantial’ tier and remain there for two weeks.  

There are two indicators used to determine a county’s placement in the system: the number of new COVID-19 cases per day and the percentage of COVID-19 tests that are coming back positive. 

State Risk System Chart

In recent weeks, Sacramento County has seen mild improvement in those metrics. The percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive stands at 5.7 percent which is low enough to help us get to the next level of the state’s system. However, the number of new cases per day has remained stubbornly high. It is currently at 9 cases per 100,000 residents. To move to a lower tier of the state system with fewer restrictions, the county would need to reduce the number of cases per 100,000 to between 4 to 7. The earliest the county could advance levels is the first week of October.

  New Cases
(daily new cases per 100k)
Positive Tests
Sacramento County CURRENT
9
5.7 %
Needed to move to red/'substantial'
7 or less
5 - 8 %

The best way to help improve these measurements is to follow the guidance given by health officials to limit contact with others, continue to wear face coverings when in public and engage in frequent hand-washing. Once Sacramento County is in the red or ‘substantial’ risk level for two weeks, the district will be able to consider implementing transitions to modified in-person instruction as approved by the Board in July. 

San Juan Unified Cases

The district is made aware of cases when notified by the impacted individual. In those cases, we work to verify the information provided and have established response procedures to address the closing of a program/school, cleaning and communicating to others. 

Currently, the only program operating in the district that has students on campus regularly is our Discovery Club child care program. Operating at more than 20 sites, the program has seen two positive test cases among active program participants that resulted in closure of programs for 14 days. At one other Discovery Club site, there have been participants exposed to family members at home who tested positive resulting in notifications to other participants at those sites out of an abundance of caution. 

Most interactions are taking place without students present as staff who cannot complete their work from home have been working on site. Since the start of summer, 15 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 in the district. In each case, anyone who met the guidelines for possible exposure were notified directly and facilities were cleaned. 

Supporting Distance Learning and Planning for In-Person

As we continue to monitor health conditions, district and school staff are working to improve support for the distance learning model, return to in-person services for our most vulnerable students and be ready for a return to in-person instruction when we are allowed to do so and it is safe to do so. 

Distance Learning Supports 

By and large, there is an agreement that what has occurred in this first month of school is greatly improved from emergency learning experienced in the spring. But, it has by no means been perfect nor free of stress and anxiety. San Juan Unified is committed to offering high-quality distance learning options whether it be temporarily because that is what safety and health allow for or on an extended basis because of student and family choice. Continuing to strengthen our efforts will remain one area of focus. 

Enabling authentication on Zoom has made our virtual classrooms more secure. The transition was not what we would have hoped for and we appreciate the more than 5,200 individuals who took part in our Zoom check-in survey (see the results) to give us feedback. As a result, we have worked directly with Zoom engineers to continue developing the authentication and login process. We are currently beta testing a process that will allow students to login once rather than repeatedly for each class while still having the security of authentication enabled. If all goes well, we hope to be able to make this adjustment for all students in the next one to two weeks. 

Survey response: Overall, how happy are you with the Zoom meeting platform? 

Zoom survey results

Narrowing the digital divide for families has also been a priority. The district has provided more than 950 wireless hotspots to families in need of internet access and more than 28,000 Chromebook devices. 

Supporting instruction, nearly 90 teachers spent part of their summer months developing high-quality lessons (video) designed specifically for distance learning and aligned to essential learning standards. That bank of lessons for each grade level and subject area is now available for use by any teacher in the district allowing them to focus their synchronous time with students on checking for understanding, assessment and building relationships. You can see how these lessons are being used by one high school teacher and how others are flipping the classroom to make the most of their synchronous time with students.  

Each school has implemented efforts to support student engagement with teams reaching out to those who are not participating and offering parents/guardians connections to resources and other supports. We are also listening to the feedback from our students and parents/guardians to continue supporting the development of the virtual classroom. You are encouraged to share any concerns or feedback with your teacher and school principal directly. If there are concerns that you are unable to resolve you can also reach out to our Problem Resolution office for assistance. 

Planning for in-person: Services in Small Group Format (Cohorts) 

In late August, the California Department of Public Health released guidance authorizing the delivery of services to small groups of students (14 or fewer). This guidance is specifically intended to allow school districts to provide services for students who require services that cannot be delivered in a distance learning format. It is not intended to allow for bringing all students back to a campus. 

San Juan Unified is actively engaged in planning for the use of small group cohorts to deliver services to our students with moderate or severe special education needs. In a survey of families, more than 75 percent indicated they would be ready to return their moderate or severe-need special education student for in-person, small group services. The district is currently working collaboratively with our teachers to identify staff who are able to return and provide in-person services for these students as well as identify the specific and various supports that would be required for each unique program. Our next step will be to identify specific program sites and plan for transportation needs before resuming in-person services in the coming weeks. 

Planning for in-person: TK-6 Waiver(s) 

With authorization from the state, county health officials released a TK-6 waiver application. If approved, the waiver allows schools to reopen serving grades K-6. In schools that serve grades K-8, grades 7 and 8 would not be allowed to return with a waiver. 

As of Sept. 16, 25 schools in Sacramento County have been approved for waivers. All of them are private schools that are typically single school sites with less enrollment than public schools. Their ability to meet the waiver requirements is greatly different than school districts with multiple campuses and thousands of students and staff. 

While San Juan Unified has not ruled out applying for a waiver covering our grades TK-6, we are not actively pursuing that strategy at this time. 

Here is why: 

  1. While we continue working to improve distance learning for all, our next focus is on delivering in-person services through small groups (cohorts) to our most vulnerable students. Many of the concerns and issues that need to be addressed in delivering small group services are part of the requirements necessary for a waiver or to reopen schools once Sacramento County moves to the red/substantial risk category on the state’s system. 
  2. There are outstanding issues that must be addressed to successfully file a waiver application. For example, as part of a waiver, there must be evidence that students and staff have adequate access to rapid COVID-19 testing in case of exposure to a positive case. Additionally, there must be evidence that all staff have routine access to testing in order to check for asymptomatic COVID-19 infections. While testing capacities have improved in recent weeks, we (and other school systems in the area) continue to evaluate whether adequate capacity exists to meet these requirements for our thousands of students and thousands of staff members. 
  3. The work of applying for a TK-6 waiver and being ready to open once Sacramento County has successfully been in the state’s red/substantial risk category for two weeks may overlap greatly. As we prepare for that eventuality, we also put the requirements for a waiver in place should the county remain in the purple/widespread range. Once the county reaches the red/substantial risk category and all necessary safety and testing measures are in place to allow schools to reopen, we anticipate that elementary grades will be the first to welcome students back. 

Many of the requirements needed for a waiver are also needed to be prepared for returning to school campuses on a larger scale when the time comes. Should the county remain in the purple/widespread risk category but the elements necessary to ensure student and staff safety be arranged, including adequate testing and contact tracing capacity, the district will consider applying for TK-6 waivers. 

Next Steps To Be Ready

Since school campuses closed on March 13, we have been working to return students and teachers to campus as soon as safely possible. District staff remain cautiously optimistic that with continued community support, Sacramento County’s health indicators will continue to improve allowing for schools to reopen and we want to be ready when that does happen. 

Families and staff can be assured that they will be provided with at least two weeks’ notice prior to any return to in-person learning. 

When it does occur, we remain committed to offering families a choice of in-person, distance, or independent/home learning experiences based on their needs. To assist in our preparation, families will receive a survey in the first half of October asking them to indicate their choice of instructional model for their student(s) when in-person learning is available again. The information gathered will be used as we continue conversations with our teachers and staff to prepare for an eventual return to in-person learning.