Parents throughout the Coachella Valley have begun preparing for virtual distance learning as the first day of school approaches. Last week Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that schools could hold in-person instruction only if the counties they reside in have been off the state's monitoring list for 14 consecutive days.
Palm Valley School in Rancho Mirage originally planned to have in-person instruction, but that all changed after realizing that Riverside County continues to hold its place on the state list.
The school year is scheduled to begin on August 26. Despite the uncertainty, the school has a plan in place for when in-person instruction does become allowed.
"Children do not flourish at home, online. That's very very clear. We're trying to balance that safety," Palm Valley Head of School, Steven Sherman, Ed.D., said.
The school had planned on reopening before the Governor's address, while other public schools opted for distance learning at the start of the year.
"There are so many logistics that you have to rethink in a pandemic situation," Sherman said.
Part of Palm Valley's plan is to have seats that are safely distanced apart.
"First and foremost no one can guarantee one hundred percent safety. We'll do our best," Sherman said.
Temperature checks and masks will be required for both students and staff. Younger students, however, will not be required to wear masks. Sherman said parents would only be allowed to pick up their child, but would not be allowed inside the campus.
Many parents remain skeptical about sending their children to school during a pandemic.
"We’re also cognizant of families who are sensitive and don’t necessarily want to send their schools here because of the pandemic so we are offering a parallel online synchronous platform called 'HyFlex' learning," Sherman said.
The model allows students to come to class, stay at home and learn, or both.
"They can come one day and not the next, they can stay home for the week and come back the next week-- really it’s according to their comfort level. We will be here physical on campus with all students, but synchronically we’ll also be instructing our online students," Sherman said.
In the event a student does come down with the virus, Sherman said he/she would be isolated within their particular cohort. They would have to revert to distance learning for at least 2 weeks.
Because of the smaller student-to-teacher ratio, officials said the school is able to follow state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in order to allow in-person instruction when the time comes.
Electives for students will remain available for students, but may change depending on which model they are engaging in. For students who remain on campus, something as simple as a music class will require students to wear masks even while singing.
The private school offers education from nursery up to 12th grade.
"We're actually going to be using trays so each child will have their own tray with the activity they're doing and when they're done with the activity it's going to be placed on the side and sanitized before it goes back out," Palm Valley School Director of Preschool, Kaira Beach said.
Beach said for younger grades, furniture placement will help children determine boundaries rather than placing tape on the ground to keep them in one space.
"We don’t want them to have to feel like they’re in some sort of a cage or marked off spaces so what we’re going to do is more of an environment shift," Beach said.
While parents are concerned, many still are facing the difficulty of having to send their children to school because they would have to go to work.
"For me it’s not a no-risk option, but it’s a low-risk option. My husband and I are both considered essential workers and so we have to have her go somewhere. It’s either go to a daycare where there’s a risk or have someone come from the outside into our home, which is a risk so for us this is the best low-risk option and it puts her back at school with her teachers and her friends and the place that she loves to be," parent Briana Jordan said.
School officials will continue to monitor the state's status to determine if returning back to school is possible on August 26.