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COVID-19: Returning to In-Person Learning (with Angelo Farooq)

COVID-19: Returning to In-Person Learning (with Angelo Farooq)

In this episode, Riverside School Board Member Angelo Farooq talks with students from the UC Riverside School of Public Policy about returning to the classroom in the fall.

FEATURING Angelo Farooq
June 18, 2021



In this episode, Riverside School Board Member Angelo Farooq talks with students from the UC Riverside School of Public Policy about returning to the classroom in the fall.

About Angelo Farooq:

Dr. I. Angelo Farooq is proudly born and raised in Inland Southern California. He grew up attending local public schools in Riverside County within Jurupa Valley. Angelo and his two younger sisters were raised by a single low-income mother who instilled the value of education to transcend their challenging economic circumstances. These experiences shaped him to prioritize the advancement of equity and access to opportunities for diverse students.

Learn more about Angelo Farooq via

Podcast Highlights:

“What we've been seeing just from our data and anecdotally as well is that the social emotional aspect, the mental health, has been a challenge. For some students much more so than others...”

-       Angelo Farooq on the topic of why returning to in-person learning is so important.

“Our reopening plan has always been based on age appropriateness and readiness.”

-       Angelo Farooq on the topic of adjusting any reopening plans to varying student needs.

“The public consciousness overall, there's more of an awareness, an appreciation of the value that school districts and public education plays in our communities that transcends just educating our students.”

-       Angelo Farooq on the topic of what society has learned from distanced learning this past year.


Angelo Farooq (Riverside Unified School Board Member)


Maddie Bunting (UCR Public Policy Major, Dean’s Chief Ambassador)

Kevin Karami (UCR Public Policy Major, Dean’s Ambassador)

Music by:

C Codaine

Commercial Links:

This is a production of the UCR School of Public Policy:

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  • COVID-19: Returning to In-Person Learning (with Angelo Farooq)

    Introduction: Welcome to policy chats, the official podcast of the School of Public Policy at the University of California Riverside. I'm your host, Maddie Bunting. Join me and my classmates as we learn about potential policy solutions for today's biggest societal challenges. Joining us today is Riverside School Board Member Angela Farooq, my fellow classmate, Kevin Karami, and I chatted with him about returning to the classroom in the fall. 


    Maddie Bunting: Dr. Farouk, you are a riverside school board member. You were born and raised in Inland Southern California and grew up attending local public schools and Riverside County within her Jurupa Valley. Thank you so much for joining us again on policy chats.


    Angelov Farooq: Absolutely. It's my pleasure, Maddie. 


    Maddie Bunting: Wonderful. I'd love to jump in as we will be discussing returning to school in the fall. Just recently in April, Governor Gavin Newsom urged schools to prepare for full in-person instruction. This fall as Coronavirus rates drop and vaccinations ramp up across the state. However, he has not indicated that he would find an executive order to force open classrooms. Given your role at Riverside Unified School District, What are your thoughts on the governor's call to action? 


    Angelov Farooq: Well, we're very fortunate. I'm grateful that the governor has had a very serious commitment to supporting public education during this pandemic. The recent May Revise budget proposal really reflects that and historically significant increases in public schools and education. So very grateful for that. And for us, you know, we, we are prepared regardless of whatever approach that we get direction from from the state wielded school district or prepared. We're very proud of how our students, our staff, and our families have been navigating the challenges related to the pandemic up until now. And we know that ideally for most students, I don't want to say for everybody that being back in person full time for many students is the optimal way to learn. And so we definitely want to be supportive of that. But for some students, students. And whether it's the safety conditions also, we want to have options and flexibility. And so that's really the most important factor for us as a district. We're prepared for every scenario. We want to give our families options. And we wanna make sure that at the end of the day, everybody is in a safe learning environment to succeed. 


    Kevin Karami: Thank you, and as for the next question, I was wondering, California having more than 1000 school districts and a lot of negotiation with labor groups representing teachers and school employees and some of these districts have struggled a lot to find common ground with their employees. Has Riverside  Unified struggled with this issue and if so has there been a mutually agreed upon solution to it? 


    Angelov Farooq: So I can speak from our experience, but we are incredibly fortunate to have two associations that have worked in a very collaborative way. In terms of what our school district or governance team, we and our Riverside Unified, we approach things from a standpoint called interest-based bargaining. And so it's more, it's a longer process. It can be sometimes be more intense also. It's allowed us to be able to engender that kind of goodwill and support where we can see things from the perspective of multiple angles and people's point of views to be able to solve problems. And we were, I believe we were the first school district in the Inland Empire that was able to come to an agreement for all K-12 to be able to go back in-person five days a week again for those families that chose to want to do that. I believe we were the first ones. And so that I think is a, is a demonstration of our ability to collaborate collectively with our employee associations. And we want to continue working with them because all of them feeling appreciated and supported is vital to the success of our, of our students. And so we are very grateful for that.


    Maddie Bunting: So happy to hear that. And that's so impressive. I know both children and parents, families really wanted to go back in person as soon as it was safe. So happy to hear that RUSD has been able to make that shift and maybe be the first. There's something you mentioned earlier which is interesting. I wanted to ask about it and that is flexibility. Governor Newsom has also discussed flexibility in regards to returning to school in person, citing possibly extending learning opportunities, extending the school day, and possibly even the school year. What is your opinion on implementing these ideas? And do you happen to know if Riverside Unified has a stance?


    Angelov Farooq: Sure. And I want to note also, when I made the comment about the first I meant for full five days a week, some school districts did go back five days a week in person, but there might have been for a couple of hours or partial. So this one, I put that disclaimer out there. In terms of the extended learning and flexibility, Our school district has really been at the forefront of these issues. We already in our current summer school programs. We've actually doubled what we typically have offered students in the past. So we've ramped up our capacity significantly already. We've added extensive summer school programs for elementary, middle school students. And we really want to dedicate our focus on not just for students with families and also to have access to resources and opportunities to make sure that our students are as successful as possible. Because we know that for many families, the challenges of being able to accommodate distance or digital learning environment is not always convenient depending on the circumstances back at home. And so we've also provided community learning hubs for many of our priority populations, or foster youth, low-income families, where they've been able to even do distance learning with that support system. I believe, outside of San Francisco, we were among the first school districts in California to pilot those programs. San Francisco, I believe, was the first one. And we are in the process of establishing wellness centers. Our social-emotional well-being of our students is a huge priority. We've developed specific softwares and programs that we've made accessible to our families. So we're approaching this on a lot of different fronts, but the bottom line is we want them to be supported. 


    Commercial: The UC Riverside School of Public Policy is excited to announce the launch in Fall 2022 of its new combined BA and MPP program. As the only such program offered exclusively within a public policy school in the entire UC system, the UCR BA/MPP will allow public policy students to complete both of their public policy major and graduate studies in 5 years. Learn more at For more information. You can also find the link in our show notes. 


    Kevin Karami: For younger students in particular child cares or social interaction, extra, extra curriculars is, It's a crucial part of their development. And Riverside Unified is proceeding with having before and after-school programs be virtual and social interaction amongst students is absolutely limited when they're on campus. So with all that said and what you already previously said, how can we ensure that students are going to get that care and support they need when many of these opportunities are going to remain virtual or limited in nature?


    Angelov Farooq: Well, the key is that we have to have the mindset that within the parameters of what's possible. We are working proactively and we're going to go out of our way to be creative in offering as many possibilities for our students as possible. And so, you know, our school district from a branding standpoint and the spirit of our values has been a district of choices. So even prior to the pandemic, we had already been offering in-person and virtual options, obviously in person, but we even have a virtual school prior to the pandemic. And so we were very well prepared because of that transition to these processes and be able to build it up the scale. And in terms of the fall, we've already had parents provide their preferences and selections. And so right now, our surveys are showing 90% of students have chosen to come back in person. And the remaining wanna do virtual or home-based where the parent or caregiver as the primary instructor. But that represents about 10 percent and 90 percent want to go back in person. We do want to have before and after-school enrichment opportunities for in-person with also virtual options. For those that don't. We want to be able to provide those flexibilities. We're developing extra co-curricular offerings as well. We did host an in-person graduation for the graduating class of 2020 one. So really proud of that. But again, these are dynamic situation. So depending on the conditions that will be operating in the fall will be will adapt. But we're preparing with the mindset that we'll be able to offer a wide range of options for families. 


    Maddie Bunting: Happy to hear that the district is asking for feedback, almost how we go, you know, evidence-based policy. It seems like, you know, that's what you're doing in a different way. I am curious with this balance between in-person activities and virtual. It's wonderful, it seems like you're going off of demand and of course, considering safety as well. Is there anything else that you can let us in on this thought process, conversations that are happening as you discussed, hardships students are currently facing or, or half face this past year. And again, just how that transition to what will be in-person or remain virtual. However, that can best be done. 


    Angelov Farooq: Absolutely Well, I think with our staff, you know, I think there's not always a full appreciation of how difficult it has been. Foreign employees also have to make these adjustments given everything that's going on in their lives as well. And so I think professional development has been a very vital tool supporting our employees so that they can hit the ground running and be able to focus their attention on what they do best, which is, in the teacher's case, teaching our children. But we have so many other supportive services of guidance counselors, psychologists, social, emotional, well-being, counselors that all have had to make adjustments. And I think the training and professional development that we are providing hopefully has helped facilitate those efforts. I would say for our students. We know students have been incredibly resilient. But what, we've been seeing this from our data and anecdotally as well, that the social-emotional aspect of mental health, it's been a challenge. And for some students on much more so than others. And so we wanna make sure that we have a variety of approaches that we're providing. I'm not just in-person but virtual as well. We're working with community-based organizations, the county, on different organizations that have specialized services related to these efforts outside of our school district also, so that our students have every single option possible to helping them through this. Getting internet access at home for many families. That in itself was a challenge. So we made sure that not just every student that requested it received the Internet, but even the people we didn't hear from, we went out of our way to make to checking in on them and finding out if that was something that for whatever reason they didn't know that they could have asked for. We want to make sure everybody is prepared for that. And so it's a multifaceted approach. There's not a one way we can prepare our students and our employees and our families for all these adjustments. But we feel like we're giving them many options to work with. 

    Commercial: Social injustice. Health disparities. Climate change. Are you interested in solving pressing challenges like these currently facing our region and the world? Then consider joining the next cohort of future policy leaders like me by applying for the UCR Master of Public Policy program. Learn more at You can also find the link in our show notes. 


    Kevin Karami: Yeah, and there's something that you mentioned was that was really interesting, was this idea that there's going to be a lot of different factors to consider. And one thing I like to focus on now is how the approach is going to be different for elementary students versus older students such as middle school or high school. Is Riverside Unified considering a different approach to reopening for say kindergartners or first graders versus seniors in high school?


    Angelov Farooq: Yes. Our reopening plan has always been based on age, appropriateness and readiness of our students. And so, you know, justthe safety guidelines alone, there's different circumstances. And partially it has to do with the density of students in a classroom or a given school. High schools happen to have a higher concentration of students in general. So just those dynamics when you talk about spacing right there. In the past, there were six feet of space. They just naturally, if there's more students that you're going to have to take more things into consideration. So everything was done within age appropriateness kind of mindset. But moving forward also, you know, it's, it's, it's also a matter of how much we need to mentally prepare our students. What kinds of in terms of the social emotional support that they receive. Again, all of it should be age appropriate and tailored to the students based on the way that they can process this information. So we absolutely have adapted based on grade levels. 


    Kevin Karami: And going off of what you just said. With older students being more adept to online learning and having, you know, being able to be a little bit more independent. Would you say that maintaining virtual classrooms for the time being would be a better strategy for them moving forward? Or is the focus on we have to get students back in person as soon as possible. 


    Angelov Farooq: Well, we've always mentioned this before that our school district had virtual options prior to the pandemic. And so in general, our spirit has been about District of choice. The parents and the students together are best. Making that decision, some students have thrived in this virtual environment more so than they did in person. That being said, when you look at the aggregate, when you look at the majority of students, it's very clear that in-person learning, generally speaking, again, is the most impactful and the social interaction. And that component is a vital importance that equation as well, right? And not to say that there isn't socializing and interactions being done virtually, but we all know it's not the same. And so we want to make sure. And that's why it's extra curricular activities or other things that There's opportunities afforded to even the virtual students to be able to have those interactions. But in general, we want to make sure that there's a real capacity and feeling of support to going back in person.


    Maddie Bunting: I did not know that that Riverside Unified School District offered virtual before the pandemic. I had never heard of that and I do think that is a great idea. Every child is different, every home life, whatever it may be, that may be something that could work better and maybe has worked better for some students throughout this pandemic. As we conclude this interview, I would just love to kinda end on a broad question and an Ask your perspective on what we have learned, what you Riverside Unified School District help learned over the past year. Just in regards to education, if there has been a mindset change, any, any big takeaways and things you want to hold onto for the future? 


    Angelov Farooq: Well, I think one thing that I am very pleased about that's happened out of this is I think, public consciousness overall, there's more of an awareness and appreciation of the value that school districts public education plays in our communities that transcends just educating our students, which I shouldn't even say just, I mean that in and of itself is an extraordinary value. And I think we're seeing now the nexus between public schools and the workforce, childcare and all of these kinds of things that are all connected to each other. The services that we provide that extends beyond children to their parents and families as well. The meals that we've been providing, which we've fed, provided millions of meals throughout the pandemic for many families. So my point is, is one, I think there's hopefully is a deeper sense of commitment and value for school districts in general. I think I'm just amazed by, inspired by the resiliency that whether it's our students, our parents, our employees have demonstrated and navigating this crisis. I think the sense of flexibility that I mentioned earlier, the ability to adapt to the environment. That's a mindset that has value beyond the pandemic. Those are important things. And most importantly, listening. There's so much we learned how to be better in tune with the needs of our students and our employees through this process and that communication and hopefully all of these things, those positive aspects can continue on. And we can have a deeper cohesion and support for our students and our district and our community so lot to learn from and hopefully we can emerge stronger because of all these things. 


    Maddie Bunting: Thank you so much for all your work advocating for students and, and focusing on their emotional, mental well-being as well. And just for promoting this idea that Public Education offers so much. Just thank you so much for all the work that you do and for again, joining us for another episode of policy chats. We know you're so busy, so we just really appreciate it. 


    Angelov Farooq: Thank you, Maddie and Kevin and looking forward to being in touch with all of you, take care. 

    Outro: This podcast is a production of the UC Riverside School of Public Policy. Our theme music was produced by C Codaine. I'm Maddie Bunting, till next time.


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