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Pandemic Forces Schools To Revamp Opening Plans
The campus of Riverbank High School – and all those in the Riverbank Unified School District – will remain empty in August, as schools begin the year with distance learning in place. Ric McGinnis/The News

There has been great debate as to whether or not students should go back to the classroom when the new 2020-21 school year begins. For Riverbank Unified School District (RUSD) the first day is scheduled for Aug. 6. With the rise of confirmed coronavirus cases in Stanislaus County and after a discussion between County Superintendents and Public Health Officials, RUSD will not be opening for the traditional school year. However they will open for instruction with a Distance Learning type model.

“As for school in 2020-2021 we need to work with what is in front of us at any given time and then expect that things can change quickly as they already have,” said RUSD Superintendent Christine Facella. “I believe that when we do have students return to school, it will not be all at once and rather a phased in approach. We are developing plans in which we distribute technology to grades one through 12 while working on a developmentally appropriate plan for our TK (transitional kindergarten) and K (kindergarten) students.”

The COVID-19 situation is constantly changing as Riverbank had 157 confirmed cases as of Monday, July 13 and people are constantly trying to adapt. Governor Gavin Newsom recently ordered all counties to close indoor dining at restaurants, movie theaters, bars, and wineries statewide as cases continue to rise. For the counties that are on the Governor’s monitoring list all fitness centers, worship services, hair salons, barbershops, malls, and protests are ordered to close as well. According to there are 329,162 total cases in California and 7040 deaths. Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties are on the monitoring list.

A letter went out to the Riverbank community from Facella, providing residents with the current information regarding RUSD operations.

“Our goal throughout the summer has been to return students safely to school where they can receive instruction directly from our teachers which is the best way for everyone to have the opportunity to succeed academically at high levels,” she stated in the letter. “Today on our weekly collaboration call it was determined through guidance and advice of our public health official that we modify our plans. We will be sharing details as soon as we have a finalized plan. Until further notice, all school athletics, extra-curricular activities and the After-School Program have been cancelled.”

Stanislaus County Office of Education also sent out a letter on Monday advising the community regarding the upcoming school year. School district superintendents throughout the county met with Dr. Julie Vaishampayan, Stanislaus County Public Health Officer on Monday to decide whether students would be returning to school. The letter added that due to widespread community transmission the county has been forced to make the difficult decision to delay the return of children to the classroom.

“This announcement represents a significant disappointment for the many thousands of teachers, administrators and support staff, who were looking forward to welcoming students back in August,” the county statement indicated.

There are 25 school districts in Stanislaus County including RUSD that have all been given the same recommendations by Dr. Vaishampayan.

“The Spanish flu remained an issue in America from 1918 through 1919 with about 675,000 deaths in the US alone,” explained Facella. “I don’t see this being much different aside from the fact that we have better technology and medical research on our side now that should help us to get through it more quickly. We have to be patient with ourselves and others as we go through the ups and downs of this pandemic and right now we are in a down period that includes increased cases locally.”

There were talks about having an outdoor socially distanced graduation for the 2020 Riverbank High School Seniors on Aug. 1 which will most likely be canceled.

In closing of the notice, Facella acknowledged that so many have been facing challenges personally and professionally due to the pandemic and that RUSD staff will assist families through the uncertainty in the upcoming months.

“It’s important that we do our part to reduce the spread of the disease in our community,” she said.

The goal expressed by SCOE is to reopen schools in Stanislaus County as soon as health conditions allow them to do so.

The details about what exactly the Distance Learning Model entails has not been given but it has been made clear that students will not be heading to campuses when the 2020-21 school year begins in August.