Highland charter school that had planned for in-person learning forced to pivot after state orders

HIGHLAND, Calif. (KABC) -- A charter school in Highland that had planned on allowing some students to return to class for in-person learning next month is now switching gears following new orders from state officials.

A classroom at Entrepreneur High School with an elaborate set-up with screens, cameras and desks with plastic partitions will now sit empty after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that school districts are only allowed to reopen if they meet certain conditions.

In order to resume in-person class instruction, a county must have been off the state's COVID-19 watch list for 14 consecutive days. Districts in counties on the watch list, including Entrepreneur in San Bernardino County, will only be able to do distance learning.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new guidelines Friday to determine which school districts are allowed to reopen classrooms in the fall.

"We understand the governor is in a tough spot. A lot of pressure from a lot of places," said Ray Culberson, executive director for the school.

Instead of returning to campuses as planned on Aug. 3, students will resume with distance learning, which Culberson says didn't work in the spring. Though a lot of time and effort went into planning the set-up, he added that it's not exactly back to the drawing board. He still wants teachers to work from the classroom, even if it's empty.

That way, he says, there's immediate feedback from the teachers and they can frequently check up on students and follow up with them if need be. And by follow-up, he doesn't mean virtually.

"You have to actually send somebody out to knock on the doors. You have to be CDC-safe, you have to have all those things, but you cannot sit in an office," he said. "A kid is going to have to get direct instructions from someone at some point in time. You can't do everything off of a computer."

Chief Academic Officer Randel Josserand said a recent survey of parents completed last week showed about 60% wanted children to come back to school at least some of the time, and about 40% of parents wanted to keep their kids home and use distance learning. As such, they created two options for parents to choose from.

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A Highland charter school is giving parents the options of choosing between in-person and online classes for their children.

"If a parent says 'What's right for me now is to have my child in class,' then we have that option, but if two weeks later they say 'You know, it's better to go 100% online,' then they do that," Josserand said.

When the state ordered schools to close in late March, everyone rushed to implement distance learning courses, where teachers could reach students online. But Josserand says it didn't work very well.

"We were in school, and the next day we were all doing distance learning. That was not successful. It wasn't successful for us; and for the vast majority of district leaders, it wasn't successful for them either," Josserand said. "So we've had to reimagine what school can be."

The charter school made headlines two years ago for its unique use of an abandoned department store building for its campus.
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