Schools in Ventura County are taking a different approach to online learning this fall as they focus on providing most Kindergarten to Grade 12 students full-time in-person instruction.
The virtual option is here to stay, however, until the 2021-22 school year. The increase in COVID-19 cases among the unvaccinated population – which includes school-aged children – has led some families to seek an online alternative similar to last year’s distance learning.
To address the concerns of these families, the state changed its guidelines for so-called “independent study programs” with new legislation signed in July.
Now all publicly funded schools are required to offer such programs for the new school year.
The Conejo Valley Unified School District was one of many local districts to put the change into practice by presenting the information to the school board at a special meeting on Tuesday.
Governor Gavin Newsom and many state lawmakers have insisted that students be back on campus for the next school year.
â€œThe focus of our legislature and statewide is on providing full-time in-person learning,â€ said Kenny Loo, assistant superintendent of education services for Conejo.
This is where the independent study comes in, to offer an alternative to the families concerned.
It will also be an option for families who do not want their children to wear masks, which are required by local and state health officials for indoor environments from Kindergarten to Grade 12.
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Districts were required by state law to provide a certain number of daily instructional minutes based on grade level during the 2020-21 school year. They could do this through a combination of in-person or virtual instruction and independent assignments.
For the next school year, the state has mandated annual teaching minutes that schools can complete by offering full days of in-person instruction or independent assignments.
Conejo Valley Unified established its independent long-term study to meet state requirements. For elementary students, a sample schedule might include a 10-minute recording and two live lessons totaling 90 minutes, followed by independent work, all done virtually, according to the district’s family resource guide.
Families with students who have an individual education program to meet their needs can also take the virtual program if it is determined that it is in the best interests of the student.
The program is not intended for in-person students who may need to be quarantined due to something like exposure to the coronavirus. Superintendent Mark McLaughlin said there would be a short-term independent study for them, including the use of packages and other materials to keep them up to date with their courses.
Long-term program courses will mirror the district-approved curriculum that in-person students complete.
So far, 62 students, or 0.3 percent of the district’s student body, have expressed interest in the independent study, Loo said.
Students must be enrolled in the program for a minimum of one semester or one term. They can potentially switch to in-person learning during the second half of the school year depending on availability.
Districts are also required by law to implement re-engagement strategies if students are absent for more than three days, and would also assess whether the virtual model is appropriate.
The amount of live instruction varies by grade level in the independent model. To that end, McLaughlin said Conejo Valley Unified has worked with neighboring school districts to be “very similar.”
Overall, Ventura County Districts are taking a unified approach for the upcoming academic year. Oak Park, Simi Valley, Ojai, and Conejo Valley have all published family resource guides with similar messages about the school year, COVID-19 safety protocols, and alternative options.
Some districts also have other options available, including home schooling and alternative education.