PUSD weighs options for resuming school in fall

YJ Si, Editor-in-Chief

With the final weeks of the school year approaching and the end of the COVID-19 crisis nowhere in sight, Poway Unified School District (PUSD) is looking into new procedures and plans for the 2020-2021 school year. 

PUSD’s first public step in finding ways to safely open schools was the survey they sent out to students and families May 21. The data from this survey indicated that the majority want any form of in-class instruction as long as it can be done safely and effectively.

According to the PUSD Board of Education Trustee Darshana Patel, PUSD will send out another survey soon asking for students’ perspectives on distance learning. While the district has received feedback from many students and families already, administrators hope to have a larger data set in order to weigh the pros and cons of future learning options.

“While we hope to return to school in the fall with more typical instruction, this is not a likely scenario,” Patel said. “We still have multiple options on the table and are planning for a range of scenarios.”

The district’s guidelines for safely opening schools covers four broad categories: facilities and operations, instruction and learning, schedules and logistics, and social and emotional supports. 

According to Principal Tina Ziegler, these categories will guide PUSD’s decision on whether to move forward with distance learning or start a blended model of learning.

This hybrid model could mean that in the fall, different groups of students attend school on campus on alternating days, with a scheduled class webcast at the end of the week.  

However, with the predicted “second wave” of COVID-19, Patel said it is likely that the district would return to distance learning even if schools were to go forward with the hybrid model. 

While nothing has been decided, PUSD is closely monitoring the changing situation to determine how to best reopen campuses.  

“Our circumstances are rapidly changing,” she said. “It is imperative that we work towards improving the distance learning model simultaneous to planning for the hybrid model.”  

Currently, Patel said, schools are under pressure to reopen as they are considered cornerstones of the economy. 

“If schools don’t open, parents can’t return to work,” she said. “This is especially challenging for young families whose children cannot care for themselves while their parents are [away].” 

For these decisions to be carried out, PUSD needs extended funds from the state. With the governor’s most recent update cutting PUSD’s annual budget by 10% for the coming year, Patel said that PUSD still needs an additional 15% more than their current budget to cover COVID-19-related expenses. These cover cleaning staff and supplies, medical supplies, staff training for distance learning, as well as food and nutrition. 

At the same time, Patel said, there is a lack of funds due to the economic standstill partly caused by the closures of schools.

PUSD officials plan to work into the summer to find solutions, as well as lobby for the funding that will be required to carry out those decisions.

“Funding is a gating factor,” she said. “But student health, safety, and well-being play a critical factor in the decision process.”