Parents question Turlock’s distance learning camp that will ‘mirror school day’

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TURLOCK, Calif. (KTXL) – A mother in Turlock is looking for answers as to why city officials are promoting a distance-learning camp for kids while schools remain closed due to the pandemic.

Rebecca Castillo, a mother of four children, is trying to prepare to help her 6th– and 2nd-graders learn from a distance when the school year begins. 

“I know it’s going to be a struggle. But if it keeps them safe, then that’s, then it’s all worth it,” Castillo said.

She said she was shocked and confused to see the city of Turlock advertising a new “distance learning camp” for kindergarten through 6th-grade students.

“They’re not reopening the schools for a reason, and then to hear something like this is going to open it just it didn’t make sense. You know, I was just kind of frustrated and confused and was just wondering why they would do something like this,” Castillo explained.

The city says the camp is a necessary alternative for families where both parents work. 

“If this is OK then how come we just can’t open the schools?”

Rebecca castillo

FOX40 is told, the distance learning camp “will mirror a school day” and students will have to bring their Chromebooks, their own school supplies and lunches.

“I think it’s just basically like a big daycare in my eyes,” Castillo said. 

The camp will be held inside a building at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds. Parents will have to pay $110 per week on top of a $55 annual fee, according to the city.

The city manager says the money covers the cost running the program.

“If this is OK then how come we just can’t open the schools?” asked Castillo. 

Castillo said the city is sending people mixed messages. 

Stanislaus County is on the state’s coronavirus watchlist, which means schools must begin the year with distance-learning.

“It can spread through kids as well, not just you know adults,” said Castillo.

According to county public health, at least 669 children under the age of 18 have contracted the virus since the pandemic began. Of those, 204 tested positive in the last two weeks. 

“I think just the main concern is making sure that kids are, you know, safe and healthy,” said Castillo.

According to the city, the camp is following all state and county guidelines.

“I think if everybody just follows the rules and, you know, they do what they’re supposed to do, then you know we could get off that watch list, and we could get our kids back to school,” Castillo said.

Turlock’s city manager told FOX40 Saturday that city staff will conduct daily temperature checks, keep students in groups of 10 or less and require that masks be worn by all staff and students third grade and up to ensure student safety. 

Masks for younger students in kindergarten through 2nd grade are strongly encouraged but not mandatory.

The city’s full response can be read below.

Q: Why is the city offering this “Distance Learning Camp?”

A: The City is offering this camp in order to provide a safe place for children to be while their guardians are at work.

Q: What is the difference between this camp and schools if it will “mirror a school day?” 

A: The number of participants will be significantly less than the number of students in a school setting. Participants will be assigned to pods of 10 students per staff person. They will remain with that group of participants for the entire week. Students will have the ability to complete their school work during the day, according to the school district’s schedule.

Q: Is this camp being run in accordance to State, County and CDC guidelines? 

A: Yes, the City of Turlock is following all State, County and CDC guidelines for all programs and services.

Q: What do you say to people who think it isn’t safe to be sending kids to the distance learning camp since it’s too dangerous to send students to school? 

A: Again, this program is for a limited number of participants, far less than the number in a regular school setting. All CDC, County and State guidance will be followed.

Q: Why charge for it? What will that money be used for?

A: The fees will cover the costs associated with staffing, supplies, equipment and the rental of the facility. Program fees are comparable to similar programs being offered by other cities in our region. Financial assistance is available for those who qualify.

Q: More than 600 children in Stanislaus County have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Are you worried this camp could lead to more breakouts as cases continue to surge in your county?

A: We recently offered a 4 week Summer Camp following the same model without incident. We will continue to follow all guidance, following a strict protocol including but not limited to daily health screenings for participants and staff, regular hand washing, social distancing, the wearing of face coverings and regular cleaning/disinfecting. Parents who choose to participate in the program acknowledge and understand the potential risks.

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