As school districts figure a hybrid model for the fall, state offers support

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FRESNO, California (KGPE) — The COVID-19 pandemic shined a light on the state’s “digital divide” when it comes to technological access for students. To fix the problem, the state’s top education leader promised to get all students on the same page.

His vow comes as Central Valley school districts are bolstering their distance learning models, with some parents still uneasy about sending their kids to school with no signs of a verified COVID-19 treatment or vaccine.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond doubled down on his department’s guidelines for precautions against the virus. Earlier this month, the California Department of Education released a manual listing guidelines for school districts to consider when reopening schools in the fall.

Some of the guidelines included things like requiring face coverings and social distancing in common areas.

But during a media check-in call Wednesday, Thurmond also addressed the issue of some students not being able to access their school work because of the lack of technology or infrastructure like high-speed internet.

That issue is one the Fresno Unified School District has been trying to stay on top of. In a survey to parents about reopening schools, many responded they plan to keep their kids at home for distance learning.

“We are definitely hearing their voice and taking into account their preferences,” said Kristi Imberi-Olivares, a director for the district’s Equity and Access. “What their needs are going to be for next year as we look at reopening schools.”

Visalia Unified’s superintendent, Dr. Tamara Ravilin, said her district released a similar survey and heard the same — some parents want to continue with distance learning. Staff there are now creating uniform standards for technology in schools and at home.

“Now we’re working on the software packages and platforms, so that we can make sure our students [at home] have high quality materials to learn from,” Ravilin said.

Knowing the digital divide caused some learning loss, Thurmond said his department is developing a plan for accelerated learning that districts can follow.

“This is our way of working to help offset the learning gaps that have occurred as a result of the pandemic,” Thurmond said.

While Fresno Unified’s survey has wrapped, Visalia Unified is still asking parents to turn them in. You have until June 21, click here for more information.

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