On March 10, 2020, the Woodland Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees convened in a room down the hall from where they usually meet and held an emergency meeting.
The discussion that morning, which would be the first of many back and forths, revolved around the possible cancelation of non-essential student activities.
At the time, The Yolo County Office of Education had recommended that all non-essential activities be canceled from March 11 until March 31.
The Yolo County Department of Health and Human Services had confirmed the county’s first case of COVID-19 through community spread. Although the district and health officials were not currently aware of any district student, family, or employees being afflicted with coronavirus, trustees decided action must be taken to ensure safety and limit any potential spread.
The following day, after an hour and a half of pleas from the public and in front of a packed room, district trustees figured they found a middle ground and decided to limit — instead of outright canceling — all nonessential student and adult activities.
The cancellation of school field trips, events, or public gatherings, or other nonessential extracurricular activities — like Future Farmers of America events where group sizes do not exceed those of a typical classroom — would be considered on a case-by-case basis along with consideration of their mitigation plan.
After Yolo County reported a second person was diagnosed with COVID-19, the board met again in another emergency session. This time they decided it would be all or nothing when it came to protecting district students.
On Friday, March 13, the board concurred with Superintendent Tom Pritchard’s resolution to close all schools for the next three weeks through the district’s spring break.
Around the same time, Esparto trustees took the same action, shutting down effective Monday through Sunday, April 5, and moving spring break to the week of March 30.
In Davis, schools would be closed for the next four weeks through spring break, while the Winters School District also shut down through April 4.
Schools throughout Sacramento and Placer counties were also closed beginning Monday, March 16.
That night, all high school programs in the area would play their last game of the season. The Woodland Wolves baseball team fell 6-0 to Vanden High, but the score was the last thing on anyone’s mind.
After the spring break, the district had to develop a new plan from scratch, dealing with teaching and serving over 10,000 students for the remainder of the year.
Distance learning, which was defined as a system by which students and teachers in different locations can continue instruction and learning using various methods, was introduced and had mixed results.
In late March, due to the ongoing COVID-19 complications, the YCOE decided in concurrence with Yolo County Public Health to extend school closures through May 1.
According to the Sacramento Bee, the announcement came after news of all 13 local districts in Sacramento extending their school closures to May 1. Solano County schools remained closed as well.
By the May 1 date, everyone in the community could see that any potential return to in-person wouldn’t happen until the following school year.
So board members and district administration had a job to do over the summer. First, figure out a plan for graduating seniors and promotion ceremonies for sixth and eighth-graders, along with a plan to either return in the fall or come up with a more comprehensive learning plan to get through the school year.
It was no secret that the online learning program the WJUSD used in the final months of the 2019-20 school year was not good enough to continue.
The 17 district school sites and over 600 classrooms would look vastly different when instruction returned in the fall, mainly because they would be nearly empty.
In late June, board members began discussing what the 2020-21 school year would look like. This is when talk of an A/B Group hybrid model first started. One week later, during a regular board meeting, trustees asked the staff to explore the possibility of full-time in-person schooling for transitional kindergarten through third grade with the use of barriers and a hybrid learning model.
A hybrid model was in line to be looked at for 4th-12th grades, all while providing a full virtual academy option for all grades for those who wish to opt-out of in-person learning due to safety concerns.
Little did board members know that the rollercoaster ride was about to begin. On June 25, one day after asking staff to explore a hybrid model for the 4th-12th grades, trustees changed course for the first time and instructed district staff to explore full-time, in-person schooling for transitional kindergarten through 12th grade.
A few weeks later, on July 16, after cases began to rise, trustees backtracked on their plan for a 100% in-person reopening of classes and thus introduced the five-phase opening approach that calls for distance learning and then a gradual reopening if and when the pandemic starts to ease.
The plan mirrored that of other districts, which were fearful of putting children and teachers back in classrooms. At the time, there were more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases countywide, with Woodland accounting for around half that number.
The district and trustees have consistently maintained that they would be flexible enough to change course as conditions changed. When the pandemic got worse in those two weeks, trustees acted.
After having to shift into emergency mode in the early part of the shutdown in late March, district staff felt they had more time and experience to execute a proper plan to deliver instruction in a more robust and rigorous manner, according to Associate Superintendent Elodia Ortega-Lampkin.
While a virtual academy for families choosing to opt-out of the district five-phase plan never came to fruition, an improved remote learning program did. While it was by no means a perfect replacement for in-person learning, it was a massive improvement from what was available in the last semester of the 2019-20 year.
“I’m very proud of what we did in the spring, but at the same time, I completely understand that parents were not going to be satisfied continuing in that way,” Ortega-Lampkin said back in August. “We weren’t satisfied either, so we purchased a new learning management platform. Now we’ll have time to train our teachers. We’ll have more guidance from the state.”
The district decided Canvas, a learning management platform, would be the way to go instead of returning to Google Classroom.
Fast forward to today.
Currently, the WJUSD is in phase two of the five-phase plan. Students are set to return on April 12, the Monday following spring break, for the start of phase three, which is a blended learning model revolving around three groups of students. Group A students will attend in-person instruction on Monday and Tuesday, while Group B students will be in the classrooms on Thursday and Friday. Group C students will remain on distance learning.
While schools may not look fully back to normal, board trustees passed a motion on Thursday to bring forward a resolution during next week’s school board meeting that could have schools looking as close to normal as possible.
Trustees have proposed to begin phase four, which is in-person learning with slight restrictions, on Aug 16, the first scheduled day of the 2021-22 school year, pending the county and California Department of Public Health allowing them to do so.