SCUSD announces full distance learning program for next school year

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) – The Sacramento City Unified School announced Wednesday that students in the district will begin the next school year with a full distance learning program and will not be reopening schools for in-class instruction.

“While it is deeply disappointing that we will not be welcoming our students back to school in-person on September 3, we commit that Sacramento City Unified’s distance learning plan will include high-quality instruction, structures to measure student progress, and accountability to meet the educational, social, and emotional needs of all students,” said Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jorge Aguilar in a released statement.

The district’s decision came mere hours after the Sacramento County Office of Education sent out a letter recommending to its 13 school districts that “schools should open in August/September with a Distance Learning model.”

The letter was signed by Sacramento County Department of Health Services Director Dr. Peter Beilenson, Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools David Gordon and Sacramento County Health Officer Olivia Kasirye.

“Our students, families, teachers and staff are grappling with tremendous fear and anxiety over how we will safely resume teaching and learning amidst so much uncertainty,” said Board President Jessie Ryan in the release. 

“I definitely miss my friends and the socializing,” said 10-year-old Hayden Sukkary.

That was Hayden’s reaction Wednesday once he learned he and his 16-year-old brother, Jalen, were going to continue distance learning from home instead of going back to the classroom.

“He’s just being really deprived from the real world, which is something that he’s living through a mask and through a computer,” said their mother, Veronica Sukkary. 

Over the past several weeks, Sacramento’s 13 school district superintendents have been working closely with the county’s Department of Health Services with the goal of safely returning students to school.

“We have jointly come to the conclusion that conditions are not safe enough for students, staff and families, to allow schools to open up in person at this time,” said Sacramento County Office of Education Superintendent Dave Gordon.

Dr. Beilenson provided the latest on the increase in community-spread COVID-19 cases.

“We’re now at … more than a thousand cases a week, when we had only had 2,000 cases in the first 19 weeks,” Dr. Beilenson said. “And the disease continues to spread, particularly among young people.”

Sacramento County cases include several hundred cases of kids under the age of 18, whom Dr. Beilenson characterized as superspreaders who can sometimes present no symptoms of the virus.

Beilenson said it makes sense to keep kids out of the classroom, especially with the current inability of the testing system to support a sufficient and timely return of results.

Keeping classrooms empty affects more than 240,000 students and close to 40,000 school employees.

“And no one, no one more than us, wants students to be able to return to school, return to their friends, return to their sports and extracurricular activities,” Gordon said. “But we have got to do it in a way that protects the community and helps us slow this curve of infections.”

According to Beilenson, distance learning could continue for a month or two. 

“And then we will know much more about how things are going in terms of how people have been behaving in Sacramento County,” he continued.

But he warned if people continue doing things the way they have been, like gathering in large numbers and not practicing social distancing, learning from home could extend well past the fall.

“Parents like myself, you know, we’re busy with work and then we have to go home and juggle the two, which we’re going to have to do,” Veronica Sukkary said. “It’s more than education, it’s also around their loved ones, which are their friends.”

Known as Return Together, a six-part plan is currently under development by SCUSD officials. The detailed vision for distance learning includes high-quality, standards-based instruction with live interaction and instruction from teachers, according to the release.

“As we implement a robust distance learning program, we call on everyone to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and urge federal and state policymakers to increase funding for and availability of expanded testing and contact tracing,” said Aguilar.

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