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BRAWLEY — Due to large spikes of COVID-19 in the Imperial Valley, Brawley Elementary School District will start the 2020-2021 with a long-distance, online learning model in the fall, according to Superintendent Dr. Richard Rundhaug.

Rundhaug said BESD will start the year with distance learning from the first day of school, which is August 17, to Labor Day. Should the situation change by then and schools are allowed to reopen, the blended learning model will be put into practice.

“When they do come back, we will give them everything we’ve got. We’ll give them our very best,” said Rundhaug. “That’s our heart and passion and we’ll do our very best to fill that gap in.”

Should the ICOE give the go-ahead to reopen, Rundhaug said the district will immediately initiate the blended learning model that was originally planned.

Rundhaug said all of the plans are subject to change as COVID-19 changes. He is hopeful, but after seeing local data, he predicted the numbers of cases in the Valley will get worse.

The initial plan — which was devised after the district sent surveys to parents in May — included a blended learning model where one-third of the students stayed at home, while the rest went to school on a half day basis, Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, all students would stay home for distance learning.

Rundhaug said the district’s original assumption was that COVID-19 would not last into the next school year, but the rapidly escalating numbers in the Imperial Valley caused them rethink reopening schools in the fall.

“The hope of moving from Stage 2-A to Stage 2-B seemed less and less, and with that reality we really had to say ‘oh gosh, we gotta change our plans from assuming we can go back and how we are going to maintain social distancing to now having to deal with this reality that we are not in a position to go back to school,’” said Rundhaug.

“That was hard to accept,” said Rundhaug. “From our passion as educators we want the kids in school. It’s not within our nature to not have kids at school.”

Rundhaug said the district is forming a committee to review practices and gather more information going into the fall with staff and community stakeholders. There will also be surveys for stakeholders to give their opinion.

He said distance learning during the school closures in March, April, and May, was not ideal. He said he is confident the district has improved in this area and learned how to better provide distance learning for its students, thanks to the summer academy. Fridays being distance learning days in the blended learning model also keeps students and teachers in practice — should the school have to close again later in the school year.

BESD received 1,000 Chromebooks through the Department of Education and will be receiving money from a state grant. The Chromebooks are being prepared for circulation, according to Rundhaug. 

The district is considering purchasing network access points through the Imperial County Office of Education’s Borderlink Program for students — at least 500 — that do not have internet access at home. 

The lack of internet access among students was determined by home surveys and patterns noticed during the Chromebook distribution in April. Teachers noted how many students logged in for lessons with about two to five students per classroom unable to do online work due to lack of internet access.

With concerns of an achievement gap or academic loss for students, BESD is ready to help students, according to Rundhaug. The summer academy was meant to counter some of that loss, but only 10 percent of the student population took part in the program. Rundhaug said the district will fully know the extent of the gap when school starts.

The district will conduct assessments throughout the school year on its distance learning and blended learning models to ensure the two methods keep up with each other in student academic achievement. 

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