CALIPATRIA — Academic and athletic cohorts have been approved to begin at Calipatria Unified School District as of Thursday, February 11, at a special board meeting.

Cohorts are comprised of small groups of no more than 16 students. Once in a cohort, students are not allowed to change. Most of the cohorts will be for special education students as well as targeting students who are struggling to learn virtually and not logging on or doing the online work.

There will be health screening and temperature checks on buses as well as school entries with the potential to be scanned upon entering the classroom. The classes will also be spread apart from each other.

Classes are likely to be held from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. at both the high school and elementary schools. They are meant to bring support for student’s education, not to bring mainstream lessons — which will be done during the regular school schedule.

Athletic cohorts to be opened are swimming, baseball, and softball. Students will be allowed to be part of both an academic and athletic cohort. All the rules that are a part of academic cohorts will be applied to sports cohorts.

Though CIF is allowing for students to participate in two sports at the same time, Calipatria Superintendent Douglas Kline does not recommend it.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting, parents and teachers expressed their opinions on the matter, with a majority asking for the district to start the cohorts and to reopen the schools in general. Parents pointed out how hard it has been on their children and the struggle it has been to keep them learning. Calipatria parent Dustin Dockstader brought in a petition signed by 80 parents to open up the public comment portion of the meeting.

“Give these kids some form of something to look forward to,” said Dustin Dockstader. “They deserve it.”

Gina Dockstader said she has watched her own son struggling with virtual school and is sure that his classmates are struggling just as much, possibly even more. She, like many, are pushing to get schools to reopen.

“I realize we won’t go back to school tomorrow, but we need to start somewhere,” said Gina Dockstader.

One community member said there is no structure in their education nor discipline in their virtual learning setting and was very concerned the students will regress.

“Please, please take into consideration, these kids need you. If they don’t come back to school soon, very soon, I believe they are doomed to repeat a cycle that I saw when I talked to a lot of kids in Niland,” said the resident.

Student Michael Luellen spoke on how the virtual learning has affected him and hundreds of students. Luellen said the virtual setting has only negatively impacted the students of Calipatria and the rest of Country, teaching them how to better cheat to get through lessons instead of teaching them the actual material. Though he understands the closure was done at a time when COVID-19 was unknown, Luellen said there is more information with vaccination protocols now and that “it is time to release our students from their prison that is virtual learning.”

“I know this will not happen overnight, but I believe it is time to start opening up whether that be through a hybrid learning model or sports program,” said Luellen.

The district had been considering opening cohorts back in October, according to Board President Raul Navarro, and the motion was pass unanimously. Due to spikes in COVID cases at the time, the cohorts never opened out of concern for safety. It was pushed back more and more as the cases spiked over the November and December holidays.

Navarro says it was all with the safety of students and staff in mind.

“I think it is ludicrous to say we do not want to open schools and I believe every board member in here wants to reopen schools as soon as possible,” said Navarro at Tuesday’s meeting. “If we make a decision to open our schools, let’s open our schools for good, not to close right back up.”

Board member Frank Perez expressed concern about students’ action outside of school, citing that students could easily meet up with others just before school and on the way to campus. He suggested a possible agreement between the district and the parents regarding the drop off and pick up of students to prevent congregations.

However, Kline said the district cannot control what happens outside of campus. The only way that would happen would be if the school were to pick students up themselves. The district can only be responsible for what happens inside school grounds and will be screened at all entrances. There will be hygiene education for students and training for staff, according to Kline.

“They have to be aware that we are able to keep these cohorts open because we keep them safe,” said Kline. “If they can’t help us keep this safe, we are going to have to close these cohorts down.”

A date was not stated at the special board meeting for when the cohorts will begin, but all board members wished the district administrators good luck in the endeavor.

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