October 15, 2020
Dear SPUSD Students, Parents, Faculty, and Staff,
Thank you all for your support as we progress through the school year and face challenges that are new to administrators, teachers, students, and staff. We are all working through unique circumstances and are making adjustments to our Distance Learning program that we believe will improve the South Pasadena Unified School District (SPUSD) educational experience. Please take the time to review this letter closely. We realize it is lengthy, but it includes many important updates.
We recognize that we are part of a diverse community of learners with many families and students reporting tremendous success with the current Distance Learning program while others are experiencing issues with workload, screen time, and mental health and wellbeing. We greatly appreciate everyone’s feedback through public comments at Board meetings, emails, phone calls, and strong participation in the most recent SPUSD Distance Learning survey. Thank you for placing such high value on your child’s education.
Not being in school, in person, is very difficult for all of us, but we want to be realistic about the hurdles that we must overcome before a safe reopening is possible for our District. Los Angeles County has very different restrictions than neighboring counties, and it is critical that we continue to follow safer at home guidelines to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. My last letter shared that LA County would review the criteria for reopening schools at the end of October. The health department guidelines for schools are constantly changing due to the unpredictable nature of COVID-19. We recently received clarification regarding critical details that must be met and the potential reopening timeline.
The following are important topics that were discussed during the most recent SPUSD Board Meeting. These decisions have been thoughtfully researched and were made based on current health conditions and restrictions, stakeholder feedback, collaboration with nearby districts, and the needs of our community. Student and employee safety is and will always be SPUSD’s top priority.
Distance Learning Will Continue Through the End of the First Semester
SPUSD and the respective labor associations, TASP and CSEA, have a common understanding and agreed that it is in the best interest of students and employees to commit to Distance Learning through at least the end of the first semester (Winter Break). The criteria from the LA County Health Department, as specified below, led to this difficult decision.
Counties in California follow a four-tier system with criteria for reopening schools. Los Angeles (LA) County currently falls in the most restrictive tier (purple) and must meet the criteria for the second tier (red) for four consecutive weeks before the County Health Department will consider school reopenings. Again, LA County would need to meet the red tier criteria for four consecutive weeks with no setbacks.
- Given the current timeline, the earliest schools within LA County might be eligible for reopening consideration takes us into Thanksgiving break.
- While our goal is a safe return to school as soon as possible, we view returning between Thanksgiving and Winter Break as disruptive to students and teachers, especially for secondary students leading into their course semester finals.
- This timing also coincides with flu season—a period when students tend to be more prone to illness.
Some community members have urged the District to apply for a school reopening waiver for grades TK-2. Please know that the approval process is still weeks away and is focused on schools with a high(er) percentage of “free and reduced lunch” counts (SPUSD’s percentage hovers around 15%) putting our elementary schools near the bottom of the list. The waiver process also only allows for six schools each week to be considered in our Board of Supervisor District 5 area, which covers hundreds of schools, more than 2,800 square miles and about two million people. The waiver details are not favorable to SPUSD at the moment.
When the LA County Department of Public Health provides further guidance for reopening, we will again review the feasibility of the waiver for elementary grades TK-2. Changes are happening all the time, and we remain hopeful that lower infection rates will lead to a quicker return to school. Please keep in mind that the waiver application and approval process takes at least four weeks.
Middle School Mondays Are Back
To better meet the needs of students and teachers, modifications will be made to the current SPMS schedule. Stakeholders indicated that middle school students were having trouble adjusting to a rolling block schedule five days per week and the associated instructional pacing.
- Starting Monday, October 26, SPMS will return to its more traditional daily schedule with a Monday “all period” day that ends by lunch.
- Time after lunch on Mondays will be designated for asynchronous learning, interventions, meetings, and teacher preparation.
Professional Development, Teacher Collaboration and Departmental Prep Days for Secondary Schools Will Begin Soon
SPUSD and the teachers’ labor association—TASP—have agreed to six Department Days that will be allotted as asynchronous time for secondary students between now and December 18, 2020.
- The days will be organized so that students experience one asynchronous period during the department prep day to the greatest extent possible.
- Teachers will assign asynchronous work during the preparation day that will be “Zoom Free” and will meet the State’s daily minute requirements.
- Teachers will provide one week prior notice to the students that identifies the date and period that will include asynchronous assignments.
- Teachers will use the asynchronous period as time for collaboration, preparation, professional development, evaluation of student work, or office hours.
High School Student-Athletes Will Return to Training and Conditioning in November
In an effort to further engage students in activities that may help improve their mental health and overall wellness, SPHS will resume voluntary training and conditioning for its student-athletes at the beginning of November.
- Working in tandem with Rio Hondo League schools, SPHS Athletic Director Anthony Chan has developed a plan that will allow student-athletes to participate safely in training and conditioning for their respective sports.
- All protocols are consistent with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s “Returning To Training and Conditioning” guidelines, including but not limited to:
- All training and conditioning will take place outdoors, will require masks, and will use pods of 12 athletes. Students must complete a physical and clearances before attending in-person training as is a standard requirement.
- Sports designated as “Season 1” will begin training in November. These sports include Cross Country, Football, Volleyball, and Water Polo. “Season 2” athletes—those participating in Badminton, Basketball, Baseball, Golf, Soccer, Softball, Swimming & Diving, Tennis, Track & Field, and Wrestling—may begin training in December.
- Students will be required to complete a health screening every day before training begins, and ball use for all sports will be limited.
- SPHS athletics facilities will remain closed to the community and outside organizations at all times in accordance with the LA County Department of Public Health orders.
As you can see, we continue to evolve and adapt to changing conditions and will continue to monitor our experiences and collaborate with neighboring school districts in an effort to return to school as soon as it is safe to do so. While the exact response you and your family may be seeking may not be represented in the above actions, we believe that these adjustments are thoughtful, reflective, and ensure that South Pasadena maintains a high quality educational program for all students during these extraordinary times.
We look forward to brighter days ahead and hope that you and your families stay healthy and happy. Remember to VOTE!
Geoff Yantz, Ed.D.