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Napa school district to propose online-only start to 2020-21 year

First day at Snow Elementary School, August 2019

Longtime educator Mimi Ladrigan welcomes a new student to her kindergarten classroom at Snow Elementary School in Napa in August 2019. School district staff is proposing that remote learning continue when classes begin again this August. The school board will decide Thursday night.

Editor's note: NVUSD trustees voted Thursday night to adopt staff's recommendations.

Officials with the Napa Valley Unified School District will recommend continuing online instruction when the new academic year begins next month – and allowing families wary of the coronavirus to stick with remote learning even after health conditions eventually allow classrooms to reopen.

A 59-page reopening plan released Thursday morning, ahead of a special NVUSD board meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, outlines a four-phase process in which more than 16,000 students would begin the 2020-21 year taking classes online, as they have since the pandemic shut down all Napa County schools in mid-March.

The board is scheduled to vote on the plan during the meeting, which will be conducted as a Zoom teleconference due to county social distancing rules during the coronavirus emergency. Viewers can follow the meeting and take part in public comment periods by following instructions on the NVUSD website at

Class time at NVUSD campuses would be added gradually only as public health conditions permit, according to the report. When the district reaches the second phase of the plan, it would transition to a hybrid of in-person and online learning before moving to phase three, during which different groups of students would go to campus five days a week but only during the morning or afternoon.

The final phase would begin when Napa County public health authorities deem it safe for children and teenagers to return to a full-day schedule in the classroom.

NVUSD announced it would push back the start of classes by one day, to Aug. 20.

For those placed on the track toward an eventual reopening, attendance will be taken daily for online instruction, and students will receive grades and teacher feedback for their work. Teachers will report to their campuses and lead classes five days a week, and will be available to assist students by appointment and in person.

Parents committed to keeping their children home throughout 2020-21 for health reasons or until a coronavirus vaccine is available may choose to enroll their children in an online-only Virtual Learning Academy, provided they commit to the program for at least one full semester.

No timeline was announced for any of the phases to begin and end. In remarks scheduled to be shared with NVUSD board trustees Thursday night, Superintendent Rosanna Mucetti said the timing of a move to partial classroom schedules will depend not only on public health conditions but also on negotiations with employee unions over safety measures against COVID-19.

“We remain hopeful about moving to an in-person model in Napa County across our 28 schools, but remain attentive to public health trends and safety guidelines,” Mucetti said in the report.

When the district’s 28 schools in Napa and American Canyon open, children and faculty are likely to face a slew of safety rules and modifications.

The report calls for a minimum of 6-foot spacing between teachers and students to lessen the risk of transmitting the virus. Staff members, and students from the third grade up, will be required to wear face coverings. Students are to receive stable seat assignments to minimize close contact, and climate-control systems in school buildings will be equipped with air filters and set to maximize the flow of air from the outside.

Elementary school classes are slated to stay together with the same teacher throughout the day and not mingle with other class groups.

NVUSD’s apparent caution in bringing students and teachers back to campus comes at a time of growing anxiety among educators about school districts’ ability to open their doors on schedule, with coronavirus infection rates swelling and no vaccine yet available.

On Monday, two of the state’s largest school districts, in Los Angeles and San Diego, announced they would start the new academic year with only online instruction, citing state and local health guidance. Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest school district, has about 730,000 students and San Diego serves about 135,000 students.

Napa County has recorded 578 positive tests for COVID-19 and four deaths as of Thursday. The county has tallied 101 coronavirus cases this week.

The recent spike in local infections has scrubbed plans by one of Napa County’s smallest school districts to reopen nearly a month ahead of schedule in hopes of giving children some face-to-face instruction ahead of potential further shutdowns.

The Pope Valley School, which teaches kindergarten through eighth grade, canceled its planned Monday opening after being advised Wednesday by Dr. Karen Relucio, Napa County’s public health officer, it could not safely reopen with COVID-19 cases on the rise, according to principal-superintendent Ken Burkhart. No new date was immediately announced for the start of Pope Valley’s academic year, whether for online or in-person teaching, although the school board is scheduled to meet tonight.

Editor’s note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit

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You can reach Howard Yune at 707-256-2214 or

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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