‘Excited to have students return’: Preparation underway at local schools as many return next week
Amid busy days of preparation, enthusiasm for the upcoming school year has been palpable from staff at Penn Valley Union Elementary School District, according to district Superintendent Melissa Conley.
“I know that our teachers are very excited to have the students return to the classroom,” Conley said Thursday, after sharing that her district’s staff would be meeting for an all-staff kickoff and training activities today, ahead of their students’ first day back at school on Tuesday.
Preparation was underway at a number of western Nevada County campuses this week, as many local schools prepare for students to begin the 2021-22 academic year next week.
While schools will be returning with in-person instruction this academic year, the state has also required that they offer an independent study option for students and families who choose to remain off campus.
“We’ve been working collaboratively with staff on how best to structure that program,” said Grass Valley School District Superintendent Andrew Withers on developing an independent study program, which he says will more resemble traditional independent study models than the distance learning model implemented earlier in the pandemic.
“We have not traditionally offered a long-term independent study program in the district, so the new state requirement to do so has asked us to do quite a bit of planning,” said Withers.
On interest expressed so far in the off-campus model, he said the “vast majority” of families in the district have opted to send their students back to campus.
Grass Valley Charter School begins instruction Tuesday, while the district’s other campuses and pre-school students begin Wednesday.
Conley said her district has also prepared to offer an independent study — or “virtual academy” — program, as well as worked out an inter-district transfer agreement with neighboring schools that cannot offer such a program.
“But still, the number of … virtual academy enrollments are far fewer than what we had previously at the end of the school year in our distance learning program,” said Conley. “So, we are having quite a few more families choosing to send their students back to in-person learning.”
Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett McFadden said last week that the requirement to offer independent study has not presented as much of a logistical challenge for the high school district, which has an existing independent study option through North Point Academy, as it has for some of the elementary districts.
McFadden said additional slots had been added to North Point’s capacity in preparation for a potential increase in enrollment. The Nevada Joint Union High School District will begin instruction at its campuses Monday.
Conley, Withers, and McFadden, alongside the leaders of multiple other local education agencies, joined county Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay last week in signing a school advisory stating that schools would be complying with the state Department of Public Health’s requirement that all staff and students, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks while indoors at school facilities.
In addition, the state announced this week that school staff will be required to either show proof of full vaccination or be tested at least once per week, and that schools must be in full compliance by Oct. 15.
On the announcement, Withers said his district had already established a form and process as of Thursday morning for collecting the required information.
Conley also said Thursday that compliance with the newly announced requirement was also in progress in her district, and that she was confident the measures would be in place well before Oct. 15.
Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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