With the latest COVID-19 guidance from the state, Tracy Unified School District is looking at the possibility that some, possibly all, of the district’s students could get back in the classroom before the end of the school year.

During Tuesday’s regular meeting of the TUSD Board of Education, district officials told the board that while small group of students, such as those in special education and the Tracy Young Adult Program, are back in the classroom under county- and state-approved waivers, nearly all of the district’s 14,300 students have been on remote learning for the entire school year.

With the latest public health guidance for K-12 schools issued on Jan. 14 the district is now considering the possibility that it could bring K-6 students back to the classroom for the fourth quarter of their academic year if the rate of COVID-19 infections in San Joaquin County continues to improve.

Tammy Jalique, the district’s associate superintendent for human resources, explained that the new guidance document sets a threshold of 25 cases for every 100,000 residents to allow the return of K-6 students. That would be dependent on the district having a county- and state-approved COVID-19 safety plan, assuring public health officials that schools have proper sanitation, personal protective equipment such as masks for students and teachers, observe physical distancing, and have plans in place on how to react if a student or teacher tests positive for the coronavirus.

It would allow schools to reopen in the purple “widespread” tier of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

TUSD considered reopening campuses back in October after cases dropped below seven per-100,000 residents, putting the county in the less-restrictive red “substantial” tier, but opted to stay with distance learning until the end of the first semester. COVID-19 cases shot up after that, reaching 76.7 cases per-100,000 on Jan. 9. After peaking that week, cases started to drop sharply.

Over three weeks the number of cases was cut by more than half, reaching 31.7 cases per-100,000 on Jan. 30, and as of this week the state is reporting that San JoaquinCounty has 29.8 cases per-100,000 residents.

“With a case rate of 29.8 per-100,000 we are not quite at the threshold where K-6 would be considered for reopening purposes, and again (grades) 7-12, at seven-per-100,000 case rate, is still quite a ways away,” Jalique said.

Jalique said that the board could consider authorizing completion of the COVID-19 safety plan in order to get the K-6 students back in class as soon as possible, or it could opt to wait until COVID-19 infections in the county are reduced to less than seven per-100,000, which would put the county into the red tier. At that level all grades could return, and the county- and state-approved safety plan wouldn’t need a detailed review.

For that option the district would have to be mindful of the timing of the reopening. Jalique pointed out that in less than two months students and teachers go on spring break.

“If the district is not able to announce a return of the students on or before April 1, or return by April 12, which is the Monday following spring break, the district would recommend remaining in distance learning for the remainder of the year,” she told the board.

Superintendent Brian Stephens told the board that they may still come up with yet another plan for reopening schools.

“(Tuesday) we learned that Gov. Newsom and legislators met over the weekend and they will, we believe, will be releasing a new plan for consideration of reopening the schools. So while we have listed two potential options for you, there may very well be a third one,” he said.

Stephens recommended that the board put the possible reopening schedules on its Feb. 23 agenda, with options to open just K-6 as soon as the COVID case rate drops below 25 per-100,000, or wait until the county enters the red tier and open up for all grade levels, or consider whatever the state’s newest plan turns out to be.

“I believe within the two weeks we certainly expect to hear from Mr. Newsom and the legislature about what their plan might be, so I think there could be a third option for us. We just don’t know what that looks like.”

Trustee Steve Abercrombie said that the timing of any board decision will be important, noting that the fourth quarter of the school year begins on March 15, a month away.

“The reason I bring that up is because, previously when we talked about possibly going back we took it into consideration that we were in the middle of a quarter and not trying to cause conflict or issues for the high school kids, who were kind of in a groove,” Abercrombie said. “Maybe we would take that into consideration at this time also, that if we’re not in by the start of the last quarter maybe we don’t go back this year, because I don’t want to get into that same issue we had last time.”

• Contact Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com, or call 209-830-4227.

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