May 29, 2020 - Parent Survey #2

Dear RVSD Parents,


Thank you for your participation in our first parent survey, which we sent out last weekend.  Below you will find a link to a new survey in which we are requesting your feedback regarding your child’s/children’s experience thus far with distance learning.  Thank you in advance for taking the time to share your feedback and special thanks to the RVSD teachers and administrators who designed this instrument for us.


For those of you who requested it, at the bottom of this email please find a reprint of the information we shared in our first survey regarding the context under which we are currently working with regard to planning for 2020-21. The situation is constantly evolving, so things are bound to change as we receive more direction from the State and our Marin County Department of Health and Human Services.  As always, we will continue to keep you posted as we learn more.


Have a good weekend.


Rick Bagley, Ed.D.


Ross Valley School District



The Context (May 26, 2020)


At this time, school districts throughout California are awaiting specific guidelines and parameters from State and local health officials with regard to requirements for reopening physical school sites this coming Fall.  State Superintendent Tony Thurmond stated two weeks ago that decisions regarding when instruction begins are being left up to each local district.  For us, in accordance with the 2020-21 school calendar adopted in February by the Board of Trustees, our scheduled date to begin instruction is Wednesday August 19, 2020.  The most pressing issue for school districts throughout the State is not when to begin instruction for 2020-21, but how to reopen our physical school sites and under what conditions may they remain open? 


As the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to re-start the world's economy continue, health officials and research scientists are constantly learning new information about the virus, its impact on people of all ages and the strategies most effective (or ineffective) for dealing with its many challenges.  Marin's school districts are advised by our local county health officials that this evolving information, particularly over the next few weeks, may help inform the directives given to local districts with regard to providing face-to-face instruction in our local schools.  We are all anxious to know what these directives will be, as they will in turn help all school district governance and leadership teams better assess the degree to which it is feasible, realistic and practical to resume instruction within a brick-and-mortar school setting.


According to public health officials, a vaccine for COVID-19 will not likely be widely available to everyone for many months and perhaps as long as a year or more.  This means while there is ongoing risk for the virus to spread, schools will likely be required to continue following various protocols and procedures around social distancing, cleaning, temperature-taking, hand-washing, use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and more.  We may also see strict limitations imposed on the numbers of students who can be in a face-to-face setting with an adult such as a teacher.


Meanwhile, current science on COVID-19 tells us there are certain groups of adults who experience more serious impact from this virus and are therefore advised to continue following strict protocols such as staying at-home and sheltering in place.  These higher risk groups cut across all job classifications, resulting in potential disruptions to school districts' staffing patterns.  Who can and cannot be in a public school setting creates new and complex challenges for all school districts as they weigh options for resuming any form of operation at a physical school site.


In addition to logistical, operational and staffing challenges, school districts must know the extent to which parents are willing to return their children to a physical school setting in 2020-21.  Even with every possible precaution and measure in place, many parents throughout the State indicate some degree of reluctance to send their children back into a physical school environment until there is widespread immunization and/or herd immunity against COVID-19.  Many other parents, for a variety of reasons, are fully prepared to send their children to school in the Fall.  There is no right or wrong decision here, but the fact remains that effective planning requires knowing who our students will be and the circumstances under which we will be instructing them.  Every year there is some degree of uncertainty about how many students will show up once school starts, but this coming year that uncertainty is particularly acute and complex, rendering accurate enrollment projections and planning exceedingly difficult.


If the above uncertainties were not enough, we also now know the California State Budget for 2020-21 will be severely impacted as a result of COVID-19 and the shut-down of our State's economy.  The resulting fiscal impact to school districts like RVSD, whose revenues are predominantly dependent on the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), are expected to be significant.  Since the passage of Proposition 13 in the late 1970's, California's public schools have faced many financial challenges. But this situation is unprecedented.  At a time when school districts will most likely incur additional cost burdens related to the COVID-19 pandemic, they will simultaneously be faced with operating their instructional programs with more limited resources than ever before.  In 2019-20 the LCFF became "fully funded" and school districts' purchasing power was finally restored to what it was before the Great Recession of 2008.  Our State's current budget situation, which some characterize as "catastrophic," is a set-back of epic proportions that will likely take many more years to overcome. In reference to Governor Gavin Newsom's May Revise of the 2020-21 State Budget, the Los Angeles Times reported in a May 14 article,


"No budget-balancing idea proposed on Thursday may be more sweeping in its impact to California families than the $13.5-billion drop in projected spending on K-12 schools and community colleges, the largest line item in California's general fund and one tightly bound to the rise and fall in tax revenues."


This is the context under which we and school districts throughout California are now working.  We are all trying to fit together the pieces of a hugely complex puzzle that seemingly has no best option.  Our primary objective, always, is to provide our students with rich and varied learning opportunities focused on rigor, relevance, and relationships, delivered in a safe and nurturing environment.  Can we effectively do this in our schools during a pandemic? Or, will the intricate details of managing the physical environment overshadow our ability to effectively and consistently provide the quality instruction our professional staff is eager and committed to deliver and our students deserve?  This is the essential questions we are seeking to answer in time for a school year that begins in a little less than three months from today.  


The Options


All of us want nothing more than to be back in school, on a regular routine, with our students, teachers, staff and parents.  But for now and perhaps as long as this pandemic continues, we do not see any realistic scenario under which our RVSD schools all resume their normal operations as they had in the pre-COVID world.  We therefore see two possible options (there may be more) for the start of the 2020-21 school year.


Option 1:  Provide instruction through a distance learning format, for some and perhaps all of the coming school year, or

Option 2:  Provide a "hybrid" instructional program offering opportunities for in-person and distance learning to some or all of RVSD's students.