School boards in action: District wellness centers continue playing an important role

Up and down California, local educational agency boards are working tirelessly to make sure students can safely return to campus as quickly as possible in areas that are still in distance learning, and have everything they need to be academically, social-emotionally and physically supported — no matter which mode of learning they are in.

This week saw announcements from Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders that a $6.6 billion budget package providing a path to reopening schools had been hashed out and that vaccine priority for K-12 school staff had further evolved. These were just the latest round of significant shifts that district and county office board members have been forced to adapt to at a moment’s notice since March of last year.

Local educational agency governance teams continue to adjust school reopening plans on the fly, support student and community health and safety and more. On March 3, Bakersfield City School District Wellness Center staff surpassed its 1,000th COVID-19 vaccine to district staff, marking an important milestone in the efforts to return students to campus. More than 1,600 of its employees indicated in a survey that they were interested in receiving the vaccine with the district, and by the end of Wednesday, district officials said that 1,154 of its staff members had been vaccinated.

“We are happy that our efforts to administer the vaccine for interested employees were successful. We were able to meet the requests of our staff and provide the vaccine to those who wanted the vaccine prior to the return to in-person learning,” Bakersfield City SD Superintendent Doc Ervin said in the news release.

Still in the purple, the most restrictive, tier of the state’s COVID-19 reopening restrictions, Auburn Union School District has continued to best support children in small cohorts, as well as families and district staff.

The district’s wellness centers at EV Cain Middle, Auburn Elementary, Rock Creek Elementary and Skyridge Elementary schools provide services including classroom lessons, behavioral interventions and support, lunchtime activities, parent/family classes, staff wellness, staff lessons, wellness referrals, collaboration with community partnerships, individual case management, therapy and crisis services. The district partnered with the Placer County Office of Education, Placer County Children System of Care and Placer County to obtain grant funds to create the wellness centers, which are staffed with mental health and family support specialists during regular school hours.

Though not through a school-based wellness center, the San Joaquin Office of Education made significant strides in vaccinating staff. Over several days of vaccination clinics beginning Feb. 19, more than 11,000 first doses were administered to public, private and charter school employees from around the county.

Reopening schools proves costly

The Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees took the first steps to equip its school campuses for a potential full in-person reopening in the fall during its March 3 board meeting, unanimously approving the allocation of $8.2 million to help address social distancing, staffing and counseling needs.

California Department of Public Health guidelines dictate that student desks can be placed within 4 feet of one another — with an ideal distance of 6 feet — which means LEAs will have to get creative when it comes to keeping class sizes smaller and desks spread out. Of the $8.2 million in spending approved by the board, $5 million will be used to hire 27 more full-time teachers to fulfill the social distancing guidelines. Additional wellness counselors will also be hired for school sites.

Another $1.85 million will be spent on furniture including newer desks to help with social distancing. Trustee Kathleen Kaiser noted that the purchase would cover all school campuses, not just the ones that are currently undergoing modernization. “This is telling all of our schools that they are worthy of our attention,” Kaiser said. “I think it’s a really critical expenditure. We want to be back full-time in the fall. This is a big part of that.”

Fresno Unified School District trustees and Superintendent Bob Nelson announced March 2 the district would be giving teachers a paid day to set up their classrooms — a practical move that will cost about $3.5 million. Additionally, a one-time contribution of $8 million is going into FUSD’s health plan for all of its employees.

The board also pivoted to join a second COVID-19 testing pilot program said to be “infinitely” cheaper than what it had approved a couple of weeks prior. In partnership with the California Endowment, which spearheaded the pilot program at 10 other districts in the state, the district will be able to have everyone on a school site tested on a weekly basis so that positive COVID-19 cases can be detected as soon as possible.