CUSD Prepares for Fall Reopening, Focal Point Being a Reduction in Social Distancing

Associate Superintendent School Leadership Corrine Folmer addressing the board about the fall 2021 reopening plan on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (Courtesy Clovis Unified School District)

The battle to return to pre-COVID normalcy continues as planning goals for fall 2021 were laid out to the Clovis Unified School District (CUSD) Governing Board at the March 17 meeting.

According to Associate Superintendent School Leadership Corrine Folmer, the fall plan is a traditional schedule, five days a week for all schools.

“Our goal right now…is what is it [school year] going to look like, with all of those scenarios, for us to achieve that end goal so that we are well planned and prepared,” Folmer said.

There are numerous scenarios and deciding factors that could affect achieving a full reopening by then. Factors include additional staffing, funding, distancing requirements, faculty impact and logistics.

On Wednesday, the Fresno County Department of Public Health (FCDPH) informed county superintendents that schools can start potential four-foot distancing plans. The county would consider plans on a case-by-case basis.

Folmer says that conversations on the shift in distance will soon begin between employee and parent groups and all operational and teaching teams.

Clovis Superintendent Dr. Eimear O’Farrell told the board that the results would be presented to the board once these conversations are had.

Numerous board members are pushing for the four-foot planning expeditiously so that it can be sent to the FCDPH as quickly as possible, allowing the shift to happen soon.

But proposing a shift could lead to teacher changes, which many parents are opposed to.

The shift to four-feet comes with a few complications and depends on what the four-foot goal is. Is the change to get more students into the classroom or for extending the schedule?

As it stands, both choices may not be possible.

October plans were built around avoiding teacher changes, and some teachers are currently teaching Clovis Connect through Zoom in the a.m. and in-person in the p.m.

“If it was just, ‘We could go to four-feet and we’ll maintain our schedule so more students can attend,’ that’s an easier conversation,” Folmer said. “…If we get to four-feet, does that allow us to alter the instructional amount…, and if that’s the goal, then it comes with a lot more intricacies.”

Folmer says that more change could be daunting to teachers, given the number of changes already done to rooms, schedules and curriculums.

“I will say probably the biggest emotional thing for our employees, and I imagine it will be with parents, is if there’s another change,” Folmer said.

Newly appointed Faculty Senate President Stacey Schiro shared her thoughts. Although she didn’t want to speak for the faculty without meeting with them first, she did attest to the difficulty change brings.

Schiro says that CUSD teachers have worked long and hard, resulting in them being exhausted, tired and burnt out, yet they are still doing an exceptional job.

“They’ve [teachers] worked hard, and another change is going to be very difficult for a lot of our teachers…It hurts my heart to think that they have to go through that again,” Schiro said.

Schiro says that for teachers to give their best for the students, another change would be detrimental.

“Another not as simple as, ‘Okay, we’re getting new kids.’ It doesn’t work that way,” Schiro said. “Everything is measured out. Everything is planned.”

Folmer also says parents voiced concerns over inequity in the last few weeks and are very upset over schedules. She says further pivoting will perpetuate the situation.

President Dr. Steven Fogg and board member David DeFrank argue that if schools are ready to move forward, they should be allowed to, with Dr. Fogg going a step further and saying that he will support more inequality if it means that schools are closer to reopening.

“This is going to make more inequality, and I don’t think we should hold any schools back,” Fogg said. “I will support more inequality if it means moving ahead.”

Dr. Fogg feels that this decision shouldn’t be complicated, and wants a plan for four-feet delivered by next week.

According to Dr. O’Farrell, a meeting was scheduled for Thursday morning to examine the situation in greater detail.

Board of Supervisors for District 5 Nathan Magsig addressed the board providing further information on distancing reduction.

A January 14 COVID update states that an updated COVID safety plan must be in place and for the district to be demonstrating a good faith effort for a change from four to six feet to happen.

According to page 23 of the guideline, a good faith effort includes considering and attempting all outdoor-indoor space options and hybrid learning models.

“Look at it. Scrutinize it. And if you see opportunities where Clovis Unified can operate more efficiently, let my office know,” Magsig said. “I’m happy to…be the supervisor that takes it directly to the department of public health to champion those things.”

Magsig says that going forward, because the guidelines’ information is interpretive and not concise, it takes the district and the county health department to communicate.

Ultimately, the board voted to submit an elementary waiver to the FCDPH, moving forward with the goal of fully reopening.

Anthony De Leon is a journalist who started his career in 2017, covering sports for the Fresno City College Rampage, earning his Associate Degree in the process. He then moved on to Fresno State, working for The Collegian serving as Sports Editor, Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in print journalism. In August, he will begin attending Reynold’s School of Journalism Master’s program at the University of Nevada, Reno.