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Whittier Union will start fall semester with distance learning

WHITTIER – Whittier Union High School District will begin the 2020-21 school year with a 100% distance learning schedule, converting the fall semester into a quarter system in which students will take three online classes in each of two nine-week periods starting Wednesday, Aug. 12.


The Board of Trustees unanimously approved the 3×9 instructional model and launching the school year in Stage 1 of the District’s four-stage reopening plan during a July 28 virtual board meeting.


The decision came in response to orders issued by California Department of Public Health on July 17, which mandate the closure of all in-person operations and activities at schools in counties on the state’s monitoring list, including Los Angeles County. As a result, schools must conduct distance learning only until the county is off the monitoring list for at least 14 days and after consultation with the local public health department.


“Whittier Union is ready for any scenario possible, taking the lessons we have learned since our schools closed in March to build a strong online learning platform that will be the backbone of our success,” Superintendent Martin Plourde said. “Once we are able to reopen, in-person instruction will only strengthen what we are doing online to provide robust instruction to our students. We are ready for this challenge.”


Whittier Union’s flexible four-stage teaching and learning plan is adaptable to the continuously changing environment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While Stage 1 is 100% virtual learning, the next three stages allow for some form of hybrid/in-person instruction. Teachers participated in summer professional development to prepare for each phase.


Under all stages, students will take three classes during each of the two nine-week quarters, enabling them to complete six classes, or 30 credits, in fall semester. Mondays will be dedicated to live interaction with students to set the plan for the week, along with teacher planning, collaboration, staff meetings and student outreach. The other four days will have dedicated instructional time for the three classes in which students are enrolled.


The system is designed to provide students and teachers with rigorous, but manageable workloads and schedules that can seamlessly transition between online and in-person instruction as necessary.


When Los Angeles County is removed from the state’s monitoring list, the District will decide how and when to reopen.


 “We are ready for online learning, but we are still looking toward the next stages of our plan and will be ready to pivot to in-person instruction when the time comes and as public health orders allow,” Plourde said. “In any scenario, we are committed to following best practices and protecting the health and safety of our teachers, staff and students.”


Families will continue to have the option to pursue distance learning only.


Four Stages

“We are [three] weeks away from restarting school, but we have seen how much can change in a short period of time, and we must be ready and prepared for any scenario,” Plourde said. “Using our formula of collaboration, we have been able to establish a plan with various stages for reopening that is responsive to the conditions of the pandemic, ensures instructional continuity for our students and protects the safety of our staff, students and community-at-large.”


As part of the 3×9 instructional model, students would take three classes each nine-week quarter, enabling them to still complete six classes, or 30 credits, in the semester. The model would be implemented in each of the District’s four stages for reopening:


Stage 1: 100% online learning with daily student/teacher interaction.


Stage 2: Online instruction with in-person support/office hours.


Stage 3: Hybrid model with 50% attendance. Students would receive a combination of virtual and in-classroom instruction. Live Zoom office hours would be available to all students.


Stage 4: 100% in-person attendance with live Zoom office hours available to all students.

In each stage, Mondays are dedicated to live interaction with students to set the plan for the week, along with teacher planning, collaboration, staff meetings and student outreach. The other four days will have dedicated instructional time for the three classes in which students are enrolled. Families would still have the option to pursue distance learning only.


“As we have done since our schools closed in March, our Board and our District have shown prudence and patience throughout this process,” Plourde said. “We will continue following a measured approach and look to county data to inform our final decision as to how to safely move forward.”


To guide efforts to create safe learning environments, the District formed a Coronavirus Taskforce, which includes 27 District administrators and union representatives; a Reopening Think Tank composed of teachers and principals; a Student Well-Being Taskforce that includes 14 counselors, school psychologists and licensed social workers; and a COVID-19 compliance team. The District is also working in collaboration with its partner elementary school districts (East Whittier, Little Lake, Los Nietos, South Whittier and Whittier City).


Whittier Union also solicited feedback from families to gauge their preferences for instruction and comfort level with returning to school through surveys. Another survey will be provided to families in the coming days. Each school site will also host virtual meetings next week to answer any questions families may have.


The District continues to work with federal, state and local public health and education departments for guidance on the reopening of schools and is monitoring health orders, which are revised often.


Under state guidelines, Districts are required to meet 180 days of instruction for the year and 240 instructional minutes-per-day (live interaction and online work), engage with students daily, monitor their progress and maintain school connectedness.


If campuses physically reopen in Stage 2 or higher, vulnerable employees would be able to work from home; temperature checks, health screenings and face coverings will be required for all students, staff and visitors; work stations and desks must be placed 6 feet apart; hand sanitizer must be widely available and restrooms must be cleaned and disinfected frequently; staff must monitor campuses to ensure social distancing; and buses will operate at a 25% capacity. Lab and art supplies are to be disinfected between uses; air filters must be upgraded; doors and windows must be kept open during the school day; HVAC systems are to be set to maximum air exchange; and high-efficiency air cleaners are to be installed.


Anyone exhibiting symptoms while on campus will be sent home for self-quarantine and referred for testing. If a close contact (i.e. family member) of a student/staff member tests positive, they will be required to self-quarantine. If a student/staff member on a campus tests positive, they will be required to quarantine and those impacted will be notified. If there are three or more isolated positive cases on campus, the L.A. County Department of Public Health will be notified.

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