BRAWLEY – The Brawley Elementary School District is currently surveying parents of students to determine if they prefer to have their children return to school, continue distance learning exclusively or be enrolled in a mixture of both for the coming school year.

The survey got underway this week and once completed will allow the district to better plan for the 2020-21 school year, Superintendent Richard Rundhaug told the City Council during a presentation on Tuesday.

Though Rundhaug indicated that he expects parents to express an equal amount of support for distance and onsite learning, he said it remains too early predict what actions the district may ultimately take.

“The more I look at data and the more I hear, the more uncertain I am that we’ll have any certainty as for the fall,” Rundhaug told the council. “Each day it’s kind of a learning cycle for us.”

Should a mixture of onsite and distance learning be deployed in the fall, the district would likely assign some of its faculty to teach remotely on a full-time basis, and have their unused classrooms partially occupied by onsite students in an effort to maximize social distancing.

In such a scenario, classroom aides would remain with those students, who would still get their classroom instruction from certificated teachers, Rundhaug said.

The district has also determined that it is possible to assign faculty to teach remotely throughout the day during the fall, though it may take further curriculum refinement.

“Our entire paradigm is going to shift because all of a sudden we’re going to be catering to what looks very much like homeschooling, like we’ve never done before,” Rundhaug said.

Countywide, campuses have been closed since March 19 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A few weeks later, those closures were extended through the end of the current school year.

Already, the Brawley Elementary School District has plans for its summer program to be offered completely online at no cost. So far, about 300 of the district’s 4,000 students have signed up.

The summer school program will be open to any student who wants to attend and is also intended to help shore up any lost ground that a student may have experienced academically as a result of the campus closures.

There currently is a general consensus among educators, Rundhaug said, that the current school closures will have a lasting negative effect on student achievement.

“I think it’s going to be years before we fill this (achievement) gap back in, to be honest with you,” Rundhaug told the council, “and that is my biggest concern.”

Currently, the district is using a mixture of paper instructional packets that are picked up in person at the district office and online instruction for its students, the majority of whom use both. Rather than be assigned a formal grade, student activity and participation is reported to parents, Rundhaug said.

In instances where a student is not able to access any online instruction, teachers have been able to provide specialized instruction for the packets to enhance the learning experience.

The transition to online learning has proven challenging at times, Rundhaug said, but faculty and staff have risen to the occasion, which he called unprecedented and likened to having to learn how to walk.

In response to a council member’s question about how the state budget shortfall is expected to impact the district and its operations, Rundhaug disclosed that the district is anticipating making across-the-board budget cuts.

Initial estimates of a $54 billion state budget reduction have since been revised, Rundhaug said, so that the district is now projecting a potential 10 percent reduction in its budget. The lost funds could translate into the elimination of three teaching and two administrative positions, he said.

Yet, previous attrition and the district’s decision to not fill those vacancies places it in a position where it may not have to take any drastic personnel measures.

“My belief is that we’re probably going to be in a better position than many other school districts going into this,” Rundhaug said. “We’ve done some significant cutting already.”  

Staff Writer Julio Morales can be reached at jmorales@ivpressonline.com or 760-337-3415.

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