Plans for a letter to state public health officials on the mask mandate and grade changes related to a recently passed student retention bill were the focus of the Galt Joint Union High School District (GJUHSD) board meeting that took place Aug. 5 as the district prepared for the 2021-22 school year.

The district started the new school year this week and with the meeting held just days before the first day of high school, the board was clear in its goals to ensure this year’s success for its students.

The board noted that, although it is required to enforce the new mask mandate set in place by health officials, it will be writing to the state health department in favor of not having a mask requirement at its schools. Board members noted that they want to follow up on the letter to ensure they are doing everything they can to have their voice heard as an effort to keep masks from detracting from the learning experience.

GJUHSD Superintendent Lisa Pettis said that the district understands the frustration of parents with the constant changes and limited flexibility with masks, noting that a letter to the public health department can’t hurt.

“We hear you, we understand you. We want some local control,” Pettis said during the meeting.

Trustee Terry Parker added to Pettis’ statement.

“It’s frustrating for all of us,” Parker said. “We hear you. We’re not happy about any of this.”

“I’m not happy about it. I go back to what I’ve said before. We have to quit policing. We have to go back to teaching,” said Trustee Pat Maple.

Liberty Ranch High School Principal Joe Saramago also took a moment to share his thoughts to parents.

“I just want to appeal to our parents,” Saramago said. “I agree 100% with everything that has been said tonight. Please don’t put us in the middle with what the state is doing and what we’re trying to do here. One of our missions at Liberty Ranch is to teach our students civic responsibility. There’s going to be laws that we don’t agree with. We need to stand together on this, parents. We’re on the same team here.”

Masks are required for both teachers and students indoors on campus and on buses, but are optional outdoors. Those who can’t wear masks due to medical conditions need to wear a face shield that has a drape around the neck if their condition allows. Face coverings can be removed to eat and drink indoors.

On July 12, the state public health department removed the social distancing requirements but mandated masks when indoors.

Regarding a new bill that was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on July 1 that requires districts adopt revised policies on student retention and awarding grades for the 2020-21 school year, members of the board noted that it is required to enforce the updated policies although they were not happy about certain parts of the bill, which noted that for those students who were in danger of not graduating, their grades can be changed from letter grading to pass or no pass.

Reasons for the lack of enthusiasm on the pass or no pass decision of the revised policy are that those marks could encourage students to not try as hard and can also look unappealing to colleges or potential employers.

For students that have fallen behind in their education, failed courses, and are not on track to meet the increased graduation requirements that the Board approved in 2018, the new resolution, which the board voted to pass, waives the 280 credit graduation requirements for the Class of 2022 and has other mechanisms to help students that had failed other classes.

As part of the resolution, a student has to be offered specific interventions and support, including access to prior courses in which the student received a D or an F, or some other form of credit recovery. The district has to notify the parent and student of its retention decision within 10 days of the retention consultation meeting.

Parents or students who are at least 18 years old can ask that the district change the letter grade for coursework completed during the 2020-21 school year to a pass/no pass grade, and the district will have to make the changes as requested.

The CSU system is required to accept the grades. UC and private universities will be asked to accept the grades. The minimum state graduation requirements are 130 credits that cover specific classes.

The resolution is for students who are more than 80 credits deficient from graduating since they need 80 credits their senior year.

Students will still be registered for a full schedule of classes despite the reduced requirements for those who are in danger of not graduating. District officials are thinking of doing things to help encourage students to remain engaged in their senior year despite the reduced requirements.

Principals at all three high schools gave energetic updates on the 2021-22 school year preparations for full-time in-person instructions. Eighteen students in the district have requested to be on independent study, but otherwise events and activities have been prepared for students this week at both Galt and Liberty Ranch high schools.

The board voted to adopt a revised board policy regarding independent study in response to a bill that was passed requiring districts to offer independent study. Once the district’s 18 independent study students are enrolled, they’ll be enrolled in EDGEenuity courses and teachers will need to have weekly synchronous contact with students. The instructor will plan for weekly meetings with students either by phone or another source.

Independent study students can participate in extracurricular activities if they want.

Galt High School Principal Kellie Beck said that the school, which has 1,087 students enrolled, held orientation for the ninth and 10th graders last week. Beck noted that the school would be kicking off the new school year with an outdoor rally, a football scrimmage and a dance Friday, the 13th.

Beck also introduced the Warriors’ motto for this year related to GHS being in its 110th year of existence. The theme for 2021-22 is “All in for 110.”

Saramago recognized a student and two teachers, including student Kendall Sutton (see separate story), who had taken a test for the National Society for Professional Surveyors. Sutton was chosen for the top three nationally, thanks to her results on the test. Saramago also recognized Brian Dodson, who received the California Teacher Agriculture Association Teacher of Excellence Award. Saramago also recognized Mandy Garner for winning one of two Teachers of the Year awards for Sacramento County. Garner is now up for California Teacher of the Year.

Liberty Ranch has six new teachers this year, and Saramago noted there will be a football scrimmage Friday at Liberty Ranch as well as an outdoor dance this weekend.

Estrellita High School Principal Robert Lemmon noted that the school has a few fun features for students this year; the school bought a 3D printer to use in class, and an archery set as well.