Back to school guidelines

Hughson announces back-to-school health guidelines; plan is for students and staff to return to class Aug. 12
Posted on 06/16/2020
Photos of student desks

The Hughson Unified School District intends to begin the new school in Wed., Aug. 12 with students and teachers returning together to the classroom with plenty of safeguards in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. All staff and students will be encouraged – but not required – to wear masks or other face coverings when minimal social distancing of 3 to 6 feet cannot be maintained. Frequent hand washing also will be encouraged.


These beginning guidelines – along with answers to Frequently Asked Questions in English and Spanish – were released by the district on its Facebook page and emailed to parents Wednesday.


Of course, it’s impossible in mid-June to know precisely what the COVID situation will be in Stanislaus County two months in the future. Hughson’s plan – developed in coordination with county education leaders as well as county health officials – includes plenty of alternative scenarios:


  • Independent study options for students whose parents aren’t comfortable with them returning to a traditional classroom setting, who are medically fragile or need to be quarantined on advice from their doctor
  • A blended learning model that combines two days of face-to-face class time with three days of distance learning
  • A pure distance learning model that provides more structure than the system implemented quickly in mid-March when California mandated all students must learn from home. It would only be used if shelter-in-place orders were reissued because of increasing COVID levels.


Hughson is not alone in trying to anticipate how to successfully educate its 2,000 students in a COVID world. More than two dozen school districts in the county and hundreds across the state are in a similar situation.


“These guidelines are countywide,” Hughson Superintendent Brenda Smith. “We worked with other district superintendents, the county superintendent and Dr. V,” referring to Dr. Julie Vaishampayan, Stanislaus County’s public health officer.


So what will school look like in August?


Smith said the state will provide masks for all employees and students. Teachers also will have access to face shields so students can better see them, especially younger students. Students will be asked to sanitize their hands entering and leaving every classroom. Frequent hand washing also will be encouraged. Disinfectant wipes will be readily available.


Classrooms will be configured to put at least 3 feet of space between desks. All extraneous furniture will be removed. Two new custodians will be hired so every classroom at every school can be cleaned daily.


Lunch periods are likely to be staggered by grade level and students encouraged to space themselves out when eating, whether inside a cafeteria or outside in shady areas. Food prepared by school staff will be bagged and distributed individually; there will be no buffet lines.


Plexiglass screens already have been installed in school offices where visitors enter. There will be limits on how many visitors can be on campus at one time.


Yet to be determined are the status of sports, clubs and other extracurricular after-school activities.


“We will be creative and work to find solutions for our students within the parameters that we have been given,” Smith said. “We’re not going to do extra travel or field trips. There are going to be changes. … In making decisions, we are remembering that our essential function is to educate students.”


Smith said initial reaction to the guidelines has been positive – especially that students will return to classrooms. Hughson, like all other local districts, closed schools March 19 because of health concerns and immediately transitioned to a distance-learning model for the final two months of the 2019-20 school year.


“Many families are thrilled,” Smith said. “Some parents are still concerned, though. Our plan is to send out more information in next few weeks. If parents are not comfortable come Aug. 1, our staff will invite them to campus and show them what we’re doing and what it will look like, and they can make a decision.”


In an email to staff June 10, Smith outlined the guidelines and her expectations.


“As we begin to see what our new school year will look like, it is my hope that we can work together to provide the same awesome experience we have given our students for decades,” she wrote. “We may need to be creative in how we adjust to some of the changes, but I am confident that we will meet this task with the same spirit of cooperation that we have every other year.”

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