Porterville Unified School District is holding off to provide at least some in-person instruction to its K-6 students at all of its elementary schools until January 25.

The PUSD school year resumed after the Christmas break on Monday. But all students in the district returned to online learning on a full-time basis.

Students at West Putnam, Los Robles and Vandalia Elementary Schools returned to some in-person learning in the classroom before the Christmas break. But students at those schools will return to just distance learning until the entire district plans to offer in-person learning for all of its K-6 students on January 25.

So it's planned for in-person instruction to begin on January 25 for students at West Putnam, Los Robles and Vandalia along with Belleview, Westfield, Monte Vista, Santa Fe, Olive Street and Roche Avenue Schools.

And when students return, in-person learning will still be offered on a limited basis in a hybrid format with classes that are reduced in size. Distance learning will continue for all students in the mornings.

One group of students will then attend school for in-person learning in the afternoons on Mondays and Tuesdays and another group of students will return to the classroom on Thursdays and Fridays, Nelson said. Those students will continue distance learning in the afternoons for the rest of the week. Families are also given the option to continue just with distance learning.

As far as Governor Gavin Newsom's $2 billion plan to reopen as many schools as possible at the K-6 level, Nelson said he hopes PUSD is ahead of the curve.

To receive an addition $450 to $700 per student that essentially will go to COVID-19 testing, districts must submit a reopening plan to the state by February 1. But since PUSD is already in the process of reopening, Nelson said there shouldn't have to be as much detail in PUSD's plan. “I think they understand that would be redundant,” he said.

PUSD and schools across the state have already been able to reopen through a waiver process. But larger school districts in metropolitan areas have had more difficulty reopening and Nelson said he believes Newsom's plan is more targeted to those districts.

Under Newsom's proposal, districts are essentially required to submit a plan for reopening schools for grades K-2 by February 15 and by all grades K-6 by March 15. “My hope is that we will meet the requirements opening January 25,” Nelson said.

The among between $450 and $700 per student districts will receive will depend on them meeting the requirements. “I don't know where we fall,” said Nelson about how much per student PUSD would receive.

And Newsom's plan still needs to be approved by the State Legislature. “That amount may change,” said Nelson about the per student funding districts would receive.

And in counties above the threshold of 28 cases per 100,000 residents over a 7-day period with schools that haven't already received a waiver, they won't be able to reopen anyway under Newsom's plan. Districts in counties above that threshold will also have to do weekly COVID-19 testing on all students and staff who return to the classroom.

That's where the per student funding to deal with COVID becomes vital. “That's where the money will come into play,” said Nelson, stating it will be used for testing.

And the logistical and financial challenges even with the additional funding of testing students and staff on a weekly basis will be great. “This is the concern,” Nelson said. “A weekly testing expenditure — that money can go real quickly.”

Tulare County is well above the 28 cases per 100,000 threshold when it comes to the guidelines that effect schools in Newsom's plan. The guidelines have led to the reference of sort of a new tier that affects schools only, the “deep purple” tier.

There's also the challenge of vaccinating educators. Tulare County has set a goal to begin vaccinating educators by January 19, which would be key for PUSD if vaccinations can begin that soon as the district plans to reopen on January 25.

“It would be very helpful if that comes into play,” said Nelson about vaccinations beginning on January 19.

Nelson said the district has entered into an agreement for its medical and nursing staff to administer the vaccines.

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