The usual excitement that reverberates through the halls on the first day of school will be replaced with the sound of Chromebooks powering up as Tahoe Truckee Unified School District students will likely be starting the year with distance learning.

The Coronavirus COVID-19 Update and School Opening Plan is now available for review as part of the public meeting agenda on the district website, following the Aug. 3 directive issued by Placer and Nevada County health officers, Dr. Aimee Sisson and Dr. Richard Johnson, respectively, stating that schools in the district must open in distance learning. The TTUSD board of education will vote on the plan — proposed in a joint statement from outgoing Superintendent Chief Learning Officer Dr. Robert Leri, who announced his retirement earlier this year, and his successor, Carmen Ghysels, whose role in the district started just this week — at the Aug. 5 board of education meeting.

If the reopening plan gets board approval, the first day of school will be pushed back one day from Sept. 1 to Sept. 2, provided the proposed revised 2020/21 school calendar is also approved at the meeting. (The revision would move the currently scheduled Oct. 5 teacher contract day to Sept. 1, resulting in the same total 180 school days for the year.) If the plan is approved, students will begin the school year with distance learning and the plan will be reevaluated at the end of September with the hope of returning to in-person instruction come October. Of course, the COVID case rates at that time will dictate whether short-term distance learning stays around for the long-term.

As stated in the statement prepared by Leri and Ghysels, it’s understood that some parents may not be comfortable with the possibility of sending their children back to in-person instruction at all either for health reasons or other concerns, and therefore will also be implementing a full-time distance learning option for students through Cold Stream Alternative School. Those preferring the full-time option will be required to enroll in this program prior to the start of the school year and it would be a commitment through the end of the semester in January 2021. Students will not be permitted to jump from one program to another “absent a serious and compelling reason,” according to the statement.

“Locally, we have seen an increase in cases within the boundaries of the school district in Eastern Placer and Nevada counties, as well as the small portion of our district located in El Dorado County between Tahoma and Emerald Bay,” the statements reads, noting that to be placed on the monitoring list, the case rate threshold required by the state is over 100 cases per 100,000 residents.

The current case rate in the school district within Placer and Nevada counties is 153.8 per 100,000 residents, according to the public health officers. In the Nevada County portion of the school district, the majority of the cases are located in Truckee, where the case rate is 216.7 per 100,000 residents.

“In addition to the case rates in the school district, access to timely testing is a major concern for public health officials,” the statements notes. “They have indicated that we would most likely be unable to stay open if we opened for in-person instruction. This is not limited to our school district but to most of the state.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced July 17 new California Department of Public Health guidelines and mandates for schools reopening for the 2020/21 school year. According to the CDPH, “Schools and school districts may reopen for in-person instruction at any time if they are located in a local health jurisdiction (LHJ) that has not been on the county monitoring list within the prior 14 days.”

Of the three counties in which TTUSD schools are located — El Dorado, Nevada, and Placer — only Placer County is on the watchlist, but has been for almost four weeks now with no sign of coming off soon, according to health officials. And despite having schools in three counties, TTUSD falls under the purview of the Placer County schools superintendent.

Based on Newsom’s direction, the statement says, “… it is not feasible nor equitable to open schools in one part of the district while not opening them in the other part of the district. Additionally, the case rate and data in Truckee would not indicate it is safe to physically reopen any school.”

In the statement, superintendents Leri and Ghysels note the tremendous accomplishment of district faculty members who were able to pivot from in-person to online learning in only three days’ time when schools closed in mid-March. They also recognize there was room for improvement and that the district has been working since May to be prepared for the possibility of distance learning come the start of the 2020/21 school year.

State legislation and educational codes mandate certain components be part of a school district’s distance learning plan, including California Education Code sections 43500, 43503, and 43504, which relate specifically to distance learning and requires districts to include the following minimum components:

  1. Provision of access for all students to connectivity and devices adequate to participate in the educational program and complete assigned work.
  2. Content aligned to grade level standards that is provided at a level of quality and intellectual challenge equivalent to in-person instruction.
  3. Academic and other supports designed to address the needs of pupils who are performing below grade level, or need support in other areas.
  4. Special education, related services, and any other services required by a student’s individualized education program.
  5. Designated and integrated instruction in English language development.
  6. Daily live interaction with certificated employees and peers for purposes of instruction, progress monitoring, and maintaining school connectedness.
  7. Documented daily participation for each student on each school day. Daily participation is defined to include:
    • (i) Evidence of participation in online activities (including completing assignment and assessments) or 
    • (ii) Contact between the District and the student or parent/guardian. Students not engaged in daily participation must be marked absent.
  8. Each teacher shall ensure that a weekly engagement record is completed for each student, documenting synchronous and asynchronous instruction for each whole or partial day of distance learning, verifying daily participation and tracking assignments.
  9. Pursuant to Senate Bill 98, the District will develop a written procedure for tiered reengagement strategies for all students who are absent from distance learning for more than three school days or 60 percent of the instructional days in a school week. Certificated staff will be expected to implement the tiered reengagement strategies.

TTUSD recognizes the challenges that distance learning may present for working parents. The plan states school officials will be working with partner organizations to explore childcare options for parents during distance learning at a variety of locations throughout the district.

To hear full details of the proposed TTUSD reopening plan and find out how the school board members vote, tune in for the public portion of the school board meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 5. The meeting can be viewed via livestream through the district website ttusd.org.