Dear IUSD Community,
On behalf of the IUSD Board of Education, we hope you have a wonderful and restful Spring Break. As March comes to a close and we continue to usher in the spring, a time of renewal, the District team and I have been reflecting on this past year. March 13 marked one year since IUSD, along with school districts throughout the state and nation, closed schools to in-person instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Little did we know that this would be the first of many steps in a long journey. While we continue to navigate this unprecedented time together, making progress in big and small ways, I would like to take a few moments to say thank you for your partnership and to look back at what we have collectively accomplished in support of our more than 35,000 students. Click here for a photo gallery that highlights some of the key milestones from this past year.
Without question, many of us have faced some of the most difficult, and at times, life changing challenges of our lives and careers. Please know that IUSD continues to stand in partnership with you, as you have always stood with us. Despite many challenges, obstacles and sacrifices, our community continues to demonstrate grit, resiliency, adaptability, dedication, and compassion.
The Shift to Distance Learning
These characteristics were on display, when IUSD announced on Friday, March 13, 2020 that schools would close to in-person instruction. By Monday, March 16 and Tuesday, March 17, our staff immediately pivoted and were in all-day distance learning trainings so that Emergency Distance Learning could begin on Wednesday March 18, only two days after this announcement was made. This accomplishment cannot be overstated and would not have been possible without our dedicated teachers, staff and administrators, who were committed to making the critical adjustments necessary to best serve and support our students.
It would also not have been possible without our students and families. Instead of traditional classrooms, our students embraced Zoom and Google Meet as the new classroom during this time. On March 18, it was special to watch the faces of our students populate computer screens in online classes across the district with smiles as they ventured into this new and uncertain reality. We will never forget their resiliency. Equally impressive is how our parents jumped in with both feet to support their student’s education, becoming teachers at home.
Meanwhile, our IT team had checked out more than 6,000 Chromebooks and worked with families, who needed internet access to secure hotspots and/or free to low cost internet service. While our Nutrition Services team served nearly half a million free meals to students. We also partnered with Families Forward to help ensure families that needed food and other assistance had access to supports and resources. Our custodial teams meticulously cleaned and sanitized our schools and facilities, which remained open for staff during this time.
Our Prevention and Intervention team ramped up efforts to provide mental health and wellness supports and resources for our students, staff and families. Education Services developed the Emergency Distance Learning guidelines, provided a variety of learning supports, resources and enrichment activities for students by grade level. We developed and housed information about these IUSD resources and supports on our iusd.org/COVID19 resource page, in an effort to keep our community informed.
We’ve Come a Long Way
Through each shift in health and safety guidelines, IUSD has adapted and remained in close contact with state and local agencies to monitor conditions and to follow the guidelines for K-12 schools. Through the Board of Education’s leadership and commitment to IUSD families and staff, the District worked diligently throughout last summer to prepare for the 2020-21 school year, engaging in a collaborative process with staff and families to develop a range of academic models to meet the diverse needs of our community. We implemented safety protocols, including enhanced ventilation, standalone air purification systems for each classroom and learning spaces, implemented COVID cleaning protocols, reconfigured our schools, purchased personal protective equipment and earmarked $21 million dollars for these and other health and safety measures.
The District worked collaboratively with the Orange County Health Care Agency, the Orange County Department of Education and all 27 Orange County public school districts to advocate for K-12 education and the needs of our students, staff and families. As a result of these partnerships and efforts, IUSD launched our first-ever virtual academy – IUSD Virtual Academy – in a matter of months. We were also one of the first school districts in California to open for K-12 in-person instruction, starting September 24, 2020. This would not have been possible without the leadership of our Board, our dedicated employees and our engaged families.
Since then we have worked together to manage the needs of our community, enhance our protocols and engage in effective contact tracing and notifications with the Orange County Health Care Agency when there have been COVID cases on our campuses or at our facilities. To support transparency, IUSD was the first school district in Orange County to launch a COVID-19 dashboard.
Together with you, our staff and students, we have been able to effectively prevent and limit the spread of COVID-19 on our campuses. In fact, IUSD and the Orange County Health Care Agency have found no evidence of student-to-staff or student-to-student transmission, and only three confirmed cases of staff-to-staff transmission, when physical distancing practices were not followed. With approximately 23,000 students and more than 3,000 staff on campuses and other facilities, case rates remain extremely low and isolated. Our site rates have not come anywhere close to the state’s threshold for closing schools or other facilities. This is a direct reflection of our partnership with families and staff.
Planning for the 2021-School Year
As communicated in our March 23 update, IUSD is committed to providing both online and traditional (five days per week) academic models for the 2021-22 school year. We are in the initial planning phases and will continue to collaborate with our key stakeholders and provide updates as we have them.
We Must Remain Vigilant
As we continue to take steps toward normalcy, with the resumption of sports, music and vocal instruction on campuses, in-person graduation and promotion planning, and preparations for summer programs, we must remain vigilant and continue to follow health and safety guidelines. Click here for guidelines and information from the California Department of Public Health, which may be helpful if you plan to travel during the break.
It is astonishing to look back at where we started this time last year and to look at the progress we have made. While it has not been a perfect journey, we continue to refine our protocols and practices, while recognizing the big and small milestones we can all be proud of as we strive for continuous improvement.
Please know that IUSD will continue to follow all health and safety guidelines and we ask our community to do the same. It is together that we have made it this far and it is together that we will get back to normal.
IUSD is truly grateful for our students, families and staff, who have been steadfast partners and demonstrated character, resiliency and adaptability, as we continue to navigate this pandemic together. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Terry L. Walker
Superintendent of Schools
Irvine Unified School District
Language Support Services