IUSD announces reopening plans for upcoming school year

Claire Chien and Abigail Fang

The IUSD Board of Education voted early Wednesday morning to adopt district proposals of traditional, hybrid, blended and online academic models for the 2020-2021 school year. 

Parents of high school students must select the hybrid, blended or online academic model for their child by July 19 on Aeries. Other than for special education, traditional in-person schooling will not be offered in high school, as there is insufficient classroom space to adequately comply with safety guidelines.

“This is not something that we take lightly,” Assistant Superintendent of Education Services Cassie Parham said. “We want our kids back, and we want school to look like how it has always looked. But our conditions are making it challenging to recommend traditional schooling and feel like it’s sustainable.”

There are a few key differences between the three academic models offered for high school, but IUSD has modified all of them to implement feedback from Emergency Distance Learning (EDL).

The hybrid model features two in-person days per week without block scheduling, in which each class period will be divided into two cohorts. Half of the students will report on Tuesday and Thursday, and the other half will report on Wednesday and Friday. This will reduce class size to an average of 15 students per teacher. In-person days will include direct instruction, student collaboration, labs, activities and assessments while utilizing both indoor and outdoor space. Online days will be asynchronous and taught partially through resources such as Canvas modules. 

“The big difference with the hybrid model is that teachers will be seeing students twice a week,” IUSD District Superintendent Terry Walker said. “You’re able to make connections. You’re able to follow-up with students in person, and you’re not detached.”

Another option is the online model, which will be held through the IUSD Virtual Academy (IVA) with San Joaquin High School, IUSD’s Independent Study High School. With five full days a week of virtual instruction, this model will include both synchronous and asynchronous lessons taught by IUSD accredited teachers. However, teachers may not be staff members of the student’s neighborhood school and the baseline for curriculum will be adopted from Florida Virtual with modifications to meet IUSD standards. Enrollment with IVA also means that the student’s transcript will read “San Joaquin High School” for the semester, but because San Joaquin High School is a WASC Accredited school with A-G and NCAA approved course lists, classes taken with IVA will still be included in the student’s total GPA.

The online curriculum will be multimodal and feature interactive applications, videos, e-textbooks and projects. Students will also participate in small group lessons weekly to ensure full comprehension of learning targets. Secondary course offerings will include Honors, Advanced Placement, Career Technical Education, English Learning and special education. Additionally, office hours will be held regularly to maintain effective and consistent communication between students, parents and teachers. Students may still participate in school athletics and other events. Similarly to EDL from last year, IUSD will provide chromebooks and hotspots for those who need it for online classes.

Finally, the blended model will allow students to take some classes at their local school and some through IVA. With this model, students will enroll part time with IVA and can choose to retain primary enrollment at either their local high school or IVA. For instance, a student can primarily learn through the hybrid program at Northwood while taking Chinese with IVA, or the student can primarily learn through IVA while taking Northwood-specific courses such as Yearbook. Athletes do not need to select the blended model to continue with their sports.

“We want our families, to the greatest extent possible in this environment, to have a choice,” Parham said. “We don’t want learning disruption. We want students to have clear schedules and clear expectations.” 

Despite the options given, many IUSD students worry about their safety and quality of education in the upcoming fall semester.

“I like that they’re allowing us to choose, but at the same time, it could mean that different people get different qualities of education,” rising junior Adrian Chen said. “The risk right now is also way higher than it was when they shut schools down, and social distancing isn’t 100% effective.”  

The Irvine Teachers Association (ITA) has also expressed concern over safety.

“If and when schools open, there needs to be a plan for protecting against runaway community transmission, especially in upper grades, with students changing classrooms throughout the day,” ITA President Teri Sorey said. “We need to be assured that everything possible will be done to ensure that in-person instruction is safe and manageable.”

In response to such concerns, in-person learning across both hybrid and blended academic models will come with significant new health regulations. The board unanimously agreed that facial masks will be required for students and staff at school, with exceptions made under certain medical circumstances. Schools will provide students with reusable cloth masks, as well as disposable masks for cases in which students or staff do not have access to personal protective equipment.

In-person classes will maintain six feet in between desks and use clear study carrels as physical barriers in cases where distancing is not possible. The custodial staff of IUSD will be trained to clean schools with EPA-verified products and specifically target COVID-19 per CDC guidelines. As of now, schools have already been deep cleaned for the upcoming school year. IUSD is still looking into appropriate ventilation systems and whether to keep classroom doors open. More specific regulations will follow an attestation checklist that can be found at the Orange County Department of Education website. Staff and students will also receive training regarding the flow of movement throughout the school to minimize prolonged contact. 

“I want people to know that the details are things we look at, literally what type of hand sanitizer, how we train people, what symptoms you look for,” Board Clerk Paul Bokota said. “All those are things the district is looking at in significant detail.”

The IUSD Board of Education’s decision followed several other recent county and district decisions for the upcoming school year. Other districts such as Anaheim Unified and Santa Ana Unified are opening the school year with a completely distance-learning model. Los Angeles Unified also decided they will not start the school year with in-person classes. 

On the other hand, the OC Board of Education made a formal recommendation for schools to use traditional academic models without the requirement of masks or social distancing. However, prior to Tuesday’s board meeting, IUSD stated it was not bound by the OC Board of Education’s requirements and would operate based on guidance from the California Department of Public Health. 

“We’re following guidelines that have been passed down by expert health agencies,” Walker said. “And that is what will continue to guide our considerations.”

The deadline for families to choose between the different academic models is July 19, after which students will automatically be placed into the hybrid academic model if they have not made a decision. However, IUSD hopes to provide students with the opportunity to switch models between semesters. The school year will also feature district-wide resources to aid mental health and wellness, such as trauma-informed training for staff. 

More information is available on the IUSD website. California Governor Newsom will also be holding a press conference tomorrow regarding the reopening of schools, which could potentially override IUSD’s plans for the upcoming school year. 

“In Irvine, we wouldn’t do anything less than a rigorous operational process for something like this,” Walker said. “There is a commitment to make sure that your schools are safe, and that’s what we will do.”