Schools rocked by turbulence of ‘social distance’

District challenged with implementing conflicting directives

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Schools rocked by turbulence of ‘social distance’Sierra Sands Unified School District, along with educational institutions across the county, state and nation, is struggling to meet the conflicting demands of isolation and service in a landscape where mandates and directives are constantly evolving.

“Everything is moving at warp speed,” said Dr. David Ostash, SSUSD superintendent. “I am fortunate to have a wise, passionate and experienced board of trustees, as well as an incredible leadership team. We are all working together to our very best for the students and their families.”

Last Friday, the district posted notification for an emergency meeting to determine how to continue serving students. Based on the guidelines available on Saturday, the school board adopted a revised schedule of minimum days to allow for planning and adjustment.

Less than 24 hours after that decision was made, Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed the state — calling for self-imposed isolation of anyone 65 and older, the closure of bars and a reduced capacity in restaurants and other public gathering places.

He also called on remaining school districts to promote “social distancing” by closing campuses, while urging them to await further guidance in how to move forward in providing a level of service that school families have come to rely on.

“It’s one thing to say you have a plan, it’s another to actually deliver on that plan,” said Newsom. “With respect, not everybody that closed had that plan.”

Newsom pledged state support in districts continuing to provide nutritional services, continuity of instruction, oversight/supervision to children, and uninterrupted pay schedules for employees.

SSUSD has already implemented a program offering breakfast and lunch to children 1-18 (see related post on our Facebook page). At press time, the district was conducting a technology survey to determine internet and computer access. Teachers are also developing curriculum packets for students during the four-week closure.

“All permanent employees will continue to get paid, as they are on a work-at-home status,” he said. “We are looking at all available options for our substitute employee group.”

Ostash said his team is working to find a solution to help families who rely on schools for supervision and child care, adding that that component was one of the reasons the district was reluctant to close before absolutely necessary.

However, other voices in education have expressed concern that providing such a service will be in conflict with other directives to maintain social distancing — which prohibits gatherings of groups of 10 or more, and the ability to maintain at least 6 feet of space between strangers.

While original expectations were for local schools to reopen April 14, the latest reports out of Newsom’s office suggest that schools may not reopen this year.

“We should be careful that we not leap to conclusions about the future,” said Ostash. “From my perspective, I will be interested in seeing how well our collective efforts suspend the risk of COVID-19 and resolve its threat as a health risk.”

He noted that impacts to student instruction and graduation exercises remain largely unknown at this time.

“We hope and anticipate that guidance will come from the state regarding allowances and exemptions that keep us on our current timeline for graduating seniors,” said Ostash.

“We don’t really know yet what our silver lining is, but what I am seeing in our community right now is a real kindness that brings calm and confidence — especially for our children. We are all banding together, and we will get through all of this together.”

Pictured: An Faller Elementary School employee hands off breakfast to a mother on Wednesday morning. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-03-20