I hope this communication finds you and your families well and taking in the beauty and joy of this holiday season. As we head into winter break, I wanted to provide you with the following updates:
Last Night’s Board Meeting Regarding In-person Learning: The Board Trustees unanimously approved the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), that was passed by the Benicia Teachers’ Association. The MOU outlines the impacts and effects related to any in-person learning and was part of the motion the Trustees passed at the November19th Board meeting.
As a reminder, the Board Trustees voted 3-2 at that Board meeting to approve the implementation of in-person learning: Pending eligibility on the California State Government’s four-tiered system and approval of the Memorandum of Understanding with our Benicia Teachers Association (BTA) to implement in-person hybrid learning. In my update of Friday November 20th, I clarified by stating until that happens, BUSD we will remain in virtual instruction at least through the winter break.
While the Board Trustees did pass the MOU last night, they asked for the November 19th item to be brought back to the January 14th board meeting for further discussion regarding the timeline for implementation. This means we will remain in our virtual learning model at least until the January 14th board meeting. I will provide an update following that meeting.
Trustee Changes: During last night’s meeting, we also thanked outgoing trustee Dr. Stacy Holguin for her outstanding work as a Board Trustee during the past five-and-a-half years. Thank you Dr. Holguin! You served with distinction and we are forever grateful for your commitment to BUSD. We also swore in two trustees: Dr. Gethsemane Moss, who has served on the Board since August 2019 and is starting a new, four-year term, and welcomed CeCe Grubbs, who is starting her first four-year term.
Our Amazing Food Services Department: I want to give a shout-out to Ms. Tania Courntey, our Director of Food Services, and her absolutely amazing team, for preparing meal packages for over 400 of our BUSD families. These food packages cover the two-week winter break period and were provided free to any family who requested one. Thank you Ms. Courtney and team!!
The Future: As we head into the holidays for a much needed break, I sincerely hope everyone is able to find ways to safely connect with family and friends in ways that build strong and supportive bonds. We need each other more now than ever.
As a school district, we will continue our ongoing focus on providing the best educational experience for all of our students. We will continue the important focus, from the Board level to the classroom, on equity and opportunity, striving to ensure the success of all our students (all means all), while focusing on any barriers that may impede the success of any student in our system.
The future is bright for our great district and I have the utmost confidence in our entire team as we continue to reflect, improve and keep our focus on our most noble task: helping each student reach his or her potential in a safe and welcoming learning environment.
YOUNG: “…transitioning to in-person instruction is not like flipping an on-off switch…. For now, we will remain in our virtual learning model until the Board approves any changes.”
Solano County COVID-19 Tier Status
Sep 22, 2020 | Latest News, nCoV
Dear BUSD Community,
I hope this communication finds everyone safe and well.
As you know, the Governor implemented a new Covid-19 monitoring system on Friday, August 28, 2020. There are four tiers to the system: Tier 1 is purple-wide spread; Tier 2 is red-substantial; Tier 3 is orange-moderate, and Tier 4 is yellow-minimal.
As of today, September 22, 2020, Solano County has moved to Tier 2, red-substantial. If our county remains in the Tier 2 status for 14 consecutive days, school districts will be permitted to hold in-person instruction. The maintenance of Tier 2 status would allow for schools to implement an approved hybrid model as districts phase into in-person instruction. For more information on Solano County Covid-19 data, see https://covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy/
While we view this as positive news, it is important to note that transitioning to any in-person instruction, including the hybrid models presented before the start of the school year, takes a good deal of planning and preparation. Our administrators, teachers, staff, and Board have been working together to monitor the changing landscape and consider the District’s options. Our planning includes aspects that must be bargained with the teachers union (BTA) and the classified staff union (CSEA).
It is important to note that transitioning to in-person instruction is not like flipping an on-off switch; rather, it is more like bringing a sizable power-grid back on-line, which has to be done thoughtfully, carefully and judicially to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone involved.
We are currently working on next steps and will discuss them in detail at the October 16th Board meeting. For now, we will remain in our virtual learning model until the Board approves any changes.
We appreciate your patience as we work through this process with the health and safety of everyone involved as our primary goal.
Charles F. Young, Ed. D
Children and the virus: As schools reopen, much remains unknown about the risk to kids and the peril they pose to others
Washington Post, by Haisten Willis, Chelsea Janes and Ariana Eunjung Cha, August 10, 2020
DALLAS, Ga. — The photos showed up on social media just hours into the first day of school: 80 beaming teens in front of Etowah High School near Atlanta, with not a mask on a single face and hardly six inches of distance between them — let alone the recommended six feet.
Amanda Seghetti, a mom in the area, said her parent Facebook group lit up when the pictures of the seniors were posted. Some people thought the images were cute. Others freaked out. Seghetti was in the latter constituency.
“It’s like they think they are immune and are in denial about everything,” Seghetti said.
Pictures of packed school hallways in Georgia and news of positive tests on the first day of classes in Indiana and Mississippi sparked the latest fraught discussions over the risk the coronavirus presents to children — and what’s lost by keeping them home from school. Friday brought reports of more infections among Georgia students, with dozens forced into quarantine in Cherokee County, among other places.
For months, parents and teachers, epidemiologists and politicians have chimed in with their views on the many still-unanswered questions about the extent to which the virus is a threat to children — and the extent to which they can fuel its spread.
A report from leading pediatric health groups found that more than 97,000 U.S. children tested positive for the coronavirus in the last two weeks of July, more than a quarter of the total number of children diagnosed nationwide since March. As of July 30, there were 338,982 cases reported in children since the dawn of the pandemic, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.
President Trump has repeatedly maintained the virus poses little threat to children.
“The fact is they are virtually immune from this problem,” Trump said Wednesday in an interview with Axios.
Eight months after the World Health Organization received the first report of a “pneumonia of unknown cause” in China, much remains uncertain about the coronavirus and children.
Doctors are more confident that most children exposed to the virus are unlikely to have serious illness, a sentiment backed by a report published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that concluded children are far less likely to be hospitalized with covid-19, the illness caused by the virus, than adults. But when children do fall seriously sick, the burden of illness is borne disproportionately: That same CDC report concluded that Hispanic children are approximately eight times more likely and Black children five times more likely to be hospitalized with covid-19 than their White peers.
Early studies on children and the virus were small and conflicting. But accumulating evidence suggests the coronavirus may affect younger children differently than older ones.
Several studies suggest adolescence could mark a turning point for how the virus affects youths — and their ability to spread the pathogen.
One paper published in July in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that children younger than 5 with mild to moderatecases ofcovid-19 had much higher levels of virus in their noses than older children and adults — suggesting they could be more infectious. That study, conducted by doctors at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, used data from 145 children tested at drive-through sites in that region.
A study out of South Korea examining household transmission also found age-based differences in children. Puzzlingly, it seemed toreach an opposite conclusion about transmission than the Chicago researchers did. Children under age 10 did not appear to pass on the virus readily, while those between 10 and 19 appeared to transmit the virus almost as much as adults did.
Max Lau, an epidemiologist at Emory University tracking superspreader events in the state in collaboration with the Georgia Department of Public Health, said two striking trends have emerged even as work continues on an analysis of recent data.
Disease detectives have found relatively few infections among young children even after the state loosened its coronavirus-related shutdown. Researchers elsewhere have noted there hasn’t been a clear, documented case of a young child triggering an outbreak. In contrast, cases spiked among 15- to 25-year-olds, suggesting they may be driving the spread of the virus.
“When the shelter-in-place lifted, they perceived that they could go back to normal life and that’s what I observed,” Lau said.
In May, Jerusalem’s Gymnasia Ha’ivrit high school was the center of a major outbreak that public health officials said seeded transmission to other neighborhoods. In June, an overnight YMCA camp in Georgia was forced to close after 260 of 597 children and staff members tested positive for the virus — an event some experts heralded as a parable for what can happen when young people are allowed to gather without being attentive to wearing masks or maintaining physical distance. At that camp, the first to come down with symptoms and be sent home was a teenage counselor.
Other gatherings among teens have led to smaller outbreaks. In New Jersey, it was a party at a country club that left at least 20 teens infected. In Michigan, health officials said more than 100 teens in three counties have tested positive since mid-July following graduations and other parties.
Sadiya S. Khan, an assistant professor of cardiology and preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said social practices, rather than biology, may explain why teens and young adults appear to be spreading infection.
“They are more likely to be out and about. They are more likely to not have experienced any consequences,” Khan said. “There has been a lot of attention to the fact that people who are older have a worse course and if you’re young, it doesn’t feel as dangerous, so they might think, ‘Why be as careful?’ ”
Khan said she worries schools that don’t enforce mask-wearing and social distancing can be laboratories for superspreader events rippling out to the broader community.
Medical history tells us that children’s role in infectious diseases is not always what we first assume. In 1960, in response to significant deaths among the elderly during the 1957-1958 influenza pandemic, the surgeon general recommended flu vaccines for people 65 and older. It wasn’t until decades later that studies showed that mortality among older people could be reduced by vaccinating the young. In 2002, the CDC recommended flu shots for infants and in 2008 expanded that to school-age children.
With the coronavirus pandemic, like any disease outbreak, research takes time, and experts say decisions being made about reopening schools are necessarily being made without the full picture of the risk the virus poses to children.
For example, the CDC’s study of that Georgia YMCA camp did not include detailed tracing of how cases spread among campgoers. Did one teenage counselor spread the virus to the whole camp? Did that counselor infect a few younger children, who in turn infected other younger children?
Similarly, that study did not document what happened to families of the infected when the children returned home. Did they bring the virus back to their families, thereby dispelling the notion that children do not transmit the virus to adults? Or, if infections did spread, was it simply the result of high viral prevalence in Georgia, and not the result of contact with a campgoer?
As the case of the Georgia camp illustrates, measuring the risk younger children face in returning to school continues to be an inexact art. Parents are left with the agonizing and anxiety-riddled task of evaluating that potential peril for themselves. And they must weigh the potential health risks of the virus against the educational, social, developmental and economic consequences of children remaining out of the classroom.
Teachers unions from Florida to Ohio have protested plans to fully reopen schools, arguing that even if a few months of data suggests children are not likely to suffer severe outcomes from the virus, they could still pass it to vulnerable adults.
On Aug. 2 — hours before the first day of school — the principal of North Paulding High School near Atlanta sent a letter to parents informing them of coronavirus infections on the football team. Video on the Facebook page for the team’s parent-run booster club showed members of the team, with no masks or distance between them, lifting in a weight room as part of a fundraising event a weekearlier.
Within days, the school burst into the national spotlight, and the issue spawned heated arguments in a local Facebook group called “What’s Happening Paulding,” with parents occasionally descending into name-calling and expletive-laced tirades as they argued over whether the pictures should warrant concern. Sunday night, North Paulding High sent a letter to parents announcing the school would be closed to in-person learning for at least two days because of nine cases of the coronavirus.
John Cochran, the father of a ninth-grader and middle-schooler in the Georgia school system, said in an interview he felt it wasn’t safe for his children to attend school in person, in part because multiple adults in their family are immunocompromised.
“That was one thing we stressed to the kids — they’ve got too many adults that they are regularly in contact with who could be in bad shape if they pick this up from them,” Cochran said. “Personally, I didn’t want that on my kids’ conscience that they went to school and got their mother, stepdad, dad or grandparents sick.”
In Georgia’s Cherokee County, where the 80 students gathered for that unmasked photo, Seghetti said she knows she’s in the minority in deciding to keep her 11-year-old son, Kaiden, home from school.
Seghetti said after seeing photos shared by parents from inside schools and learning that two elementary campuses in the district already had reported coronavirus cases — a second-grader Tuesday and a first-grader Wednesday — she is confident she made the right decision.Cherokee County schools spokeswoman Barbara P. Jacoby said the schools have implemented changes to try to keep students safe, including staggering bell times to avoid hall crowding and providing students with two masks each they can wear if they wish.
Karin Jessop’s two children, ages 12 and 13, attended that YMCA day camp at Lake Burton where the residential camp outbreak unfolded. Her children, who were at the camp for four weeks but came home each night, did not get infected; the outbreak was among those who stayed overnight, another reminder of the unpredictability of the spread.
Jessop, a technology company executive, said after news of the outbreak broke, “a lot of moms were getting stressed out about making the wrong decision and worried what people will think.”
“At the end of the day, it’s your family,” she said, adding she believes staying home affects her children’s development, which makes the camp experience worth the risk.
“Many of these kids have been home since March, and if you have super gregarious, extroverted kids, they are used to and need that interaction.”
Zoom accounts. Masks. Decent WiFi. It’s not the typical back-to-school shopping list, but then again 2020 has been anything but normal due to COVID-19.
With the start of the school year right around the corner (Aug. 17 in Solano County) teachers, administrators and school board members are currently working quicker than The Flash to make things run smoothly when students return back to class.
When the students do return it won’t be on campuses as the Solano County Office of Education announced three weeks ago that local schools will start the new school year with distance learning. This is because Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in July that that schools in counties on the state’s coronavirus watch list begin the school year via distance learning. Solano County is on that list.
“It’s definitely different preparing for the start of the school year in the digital age,” Vallejo High principal Jarrod Bordi said. “We’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming this week and we’ve had a lot of professional development this week. We will have three more days next week with our staff. We want to make sure that our teachers have all the right tools they need.”
Newsom has said that once these “watched” locales meet requirements (including being off the list for 14 consecutive days) campuses may reopen, but as of now, Dr. Charles Young, Superintendent of Schools for Benicia Unified School District agrees with Newsom’s plan.
“We have a phase-in model approach,” Young told the Times-Herald. “We would like to be able to do in-person teaching when it is safe for students and staff as outlined by the Governor’s Directive. … Everyone is doing their very best getting ready for the year. BUSD is very fortunate to have amazingly talented employees in all parts of our system who work together in ways that are supportive and student-centered.”
Solano County Superintendent of Schools Lisette Estrella-Henderson said in July that educators “are working tirelessly to design and implement solutions to meet a broad range of unique needs for thousands of students.
“Bottom line is equity for every student is critical,” Estrella-Henderson said. “Our districts and charters schools will continue to be flexible, resourceful, and innovative no matter where instruction occurs on the first day of school.”
Young said that one of the most important issues was to make sure every student is prepared.
“Students will be provided with Chromebook for home learning,” Young said. “Some specialty classes at the secondary level will also have supply kits for students.”
Young as well as Bordi said that Benicia and Vallejo will keep a regular grading policy for the fall and not turn to a pass, fail system.
The Benicia superintendent said that there will be challenges to the new school year but that his staff and himself learned a lot during the spring semester when distance learning was first put into effect.
“Challenges include not being in the same space with our students;” Young said. “Keeping students engaged; how it’s difficult to do small group work and collaborative/hands-on work; and creating and keeping culture, community and connection, these are all challenges.
“That being said, I’ve been impressed with our teachers commitment to students,” Young continued. “I’m impressed with their ability to adjust and learn and create new “system” within 48 hours; our teachers partnership, positivity and collaboration to do what needs to be done to support students. We learned a lot in the spring such as teaching online in smaller groups works better for some students; creating a set schedule and being as consistent as possible; finding additional support curriculum that works well online; creating connection is key and that learning and teaching takes longer online.”
Bordi also said that Vallejo High will switch some things up in the fall due to what the school learned from distance schooling in the spring.
“I think this time around it’s going to be a little more robust and more direct with how we communicate with the students,” Bordi said. “For some this will be easier, while for some this may not be easier. But we want to provide a more rigorous, robust semester for kids this year.”
Bordi said one of the biggest challenges is “meeting the needs of everyone” involved. As Vallejo High moves forward he said it will take a “team effort.”
Young said that BUSD is always listening to community feedback on what they can improve on and what they should continue to do.
Some parents expressed their hopes and concerns about the school year to the Times-Herald online on Wednesday.
Iona Morgan has a student who will be a senior at Benicia High as well as an eighth-grader at Benicia Middle School.
“My biggest concern is the greater uncertainty around the college application process,” Morgan said. “Biggest hope is finding a way to protect students’ mental health. Challenges are having kids miss their friends and teachers. But I did enjoy the flexibility that distance learning provided.”
Parent Debbie Lamb said her biggest concern was funding.
“AB77 and AB98 base this year’s funding for schools in California on last year’s numbers,” she said. “But for charter schools with a growth plan, this means new students won’t be funded and the schools aren’t allowed to disenroll students either.”
Robert Alexander also weighed in on the issue on Twitter.
“Biggest hope: Pandemic=road to school vouchers. I want VJO families at @VCUSD to have choice-ability-resources to get their kids into best learning environment for their kids (SPSV-Justin-DLS-etc). If they like @VCUSD, they can give their vouchers back and stay in Vallejo public school”
Bordi said that high school is important and stressed that giving incoming freshmen the great experience of finally getting to high school is on the minds of staff.
“One thing we’ve been talking about is orientation,” Bordi said. “We want to give incoming students that great welcoming experience. It won’t be physical where a teacher shows you around the school personally like in the past, but we still want to provide a welcoming experience.”
Incoming freshmen at Vallejo High will be picking up textbooks and other materials on campus on Thursday, Aug. 13. The distribution will be spaced out and done alphabetically while staff shows up to make sure social distancing is being followed.
Newsom said the pace at which counties on and off the monitoring list resume in-person classes this fall is incumbent upon people following state health mandates and guidelines like wearing masks and face coverings, practicing physical distancing, hand washing and minimizing contact with people outside one’s household.
“The more we do … and we do it at scale, the quicker all those counties are going to come off that monitoring list, we’re going to mitigate the spread of this virus and those kids are back in school,” Newsom said in July.
Newsom also outlined the state’s requirements for distance learning. Schools must ensure that all students have access to the requisite technology and internet service for at-home classes and that students and teachers interact with each other daily. Schools must also lay out plans to modify their lessons for English language learners and special education students.
“Safety is foundational and safety will ultimately make the determination of how we go about educating our kids as we move into this fall and we work our way through this pandemic,” Newsom said.
Mitchell Romao, Vallejo Unified School District interim superintendent, as well as VCUSD President John Fox, did not return phone calls to the Times-Herald for this story.