Schools to potentially remain closed until 2021

Remote learning could continue through fall semester

As stay at home orders continue into May, California school districts must begin to consider and prepare for the upcoming school year. 

Ventura County school districts, including Oak Park Unified School District, are trying to figure out what remote learning could look like should school start in August while everyone is still at home.

OPHS’s summer school has already been moved to remote learning. Since the situation is constantly changing, a decision from the state on whether or not to continue education at home may come pretty late. 

Reopening school campuses and other locations too soon could exacerbate a possible second wave of COVID-19, which would prolong or reinstate stay at home orders.

Gov. Gavin Newsom began to discuss starting school in July

“We recognize there has been a learning loss because of this disruption. We’re concerned about that learning loss,” Newsom said.”We are considering the prospect of an even earlier school year, as early as late July.” 

Newsom quickly received backlash from many, including California district leaders for his lack of specificity for how that would work.

If Oak Park Unified School District does continue with online school in the fall, it’s still uncertain what that would look like.

“The bottom line is that there’s a lot of speculation at this particular point at what it could be,” Knight said.

However, Oak Park High School implemented a 1-to-1 technology system this year so every student has access to technology at home.

“We were having a debate about doing that because it was so expensive … Finally, we decided we were definitely going to do it … Thank goodness we did because we were going to have a real mess on our hands had we not been a 1-to-1 district by that point,” Knight said.

Many question the practicality of social distancing at school. Some schools have discussed having only ⅓ of the classroom full each day and having the rest of the students on distance learning with a weekly schedule. However, this may not be a workable model.

“A lot of this depends on what happens with the number of cases of coronavirus that are going around,” Knight said.

Knight believes strict stay home orders are necessary until there is a vaccine or herd immunity, a point where so many people have had the virus that it no longer spreads, is reached.

“Viruses don’t just suddenly go away, it takes a really long time,” Knight said.

In New York City, 63 public school teachers died from COVID-19 due, possibly, to not closing schools early enough. OPUSD does not want to risk a situation like this by opening too soon.

“Some people are going to want us to open no matter what and I sense that’s going to be a struggle, but I have to protect my staff members and every single student in the school district has to be protected because you never know what’s going to happen next,” Knight said. “At the same time, we have a huge obligation to educate students, and give parents, in … essence, child care. Some people have the luxury [of being] home and they can work from home but others don’t.”

Even when OPUSD does reopen, it’s not clear how the process of shifting back to normalcy will go.

“I don’t think we’re going to see the first day of school and everything is normal just like it usually is. That’s probably not going to happen unless there was a vaccine and everybody has it,” Knight said.

For now, OPUSD and the other districts in Ventura County are working to make decisions about the future quickly.

“We have a task force that we’re a part of for the county that is examining the data, the information, the recommendations, watching what’s happening around the world — not just in other states, in other countries,” Knight said

Because people aren’t going out right now and spending money to generate sales tax, and many are unable to work and pay income tax, there are going to be huge deficits at the state level in California, which is the primary funder of public schools.

“Just at a time when we need more money to support students, we’ll be getting less,” Knight said.

The state is asking the federal government right now to make sure that the schools are included in a future stimulus bill.

“I think our federal government and our state governments have an absolute obligation to maintain the integrity of the public school systems throughout our country. Otherwise, that will do irreparable damage to each individual,” Knight said.

Knight has concerns not only for his students’ education, but their wellbeing during such an uncertain time

“I do worry about our students a lot. Especially those who might have stress or unhappy home situations, to begin with and now they’re stuck in there. Or, people that might not get along well with their siblings or their parents … or whose parents may be out of work and are really worried about things,” Knight said. “Those are the consequences we don’t really have any control over whatsoever and so … we can only do what we can do.”