Back to school
Coastside school districts are preparing for an eventual reopening as the rules loosen. Review file photo

Now that San Mateo County has been in the “red” tier for two weeks, public schools in San Mateo County can move to reopen their doors for in-person learning. But new rules from the San Mateo County Office of Education released to superintendents last week will dictate when and how schools can reopen — and both La Honda-Pescadero and Cabrillo Unified school districts say they need more time to react.

“We’re all in agreement on the opening of schools committee that it’s not ready, we’re not ready,” CUSD Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said.

Cabrillo schools hope to bring English language learners, disabled students, foster youth and other “at-promise” students back as soon as they can, but no earlier than Oct. 16. The board also approved Thursday night an effort to begin bringing students who chose the hybrid model back starting mid-January, perhaps after the county has moved to the “orange” tier. Any reopening would be contingent on agreements with labor unions.

According to McPhetridge, just three districts in the county, all of which are elementary-only, have begun phased reopening.

“We want to begin as soon as possible,” Assistant Superintendent Leticia Bhatia said.

On the South Coast, LHPUSD also hopes to submit materials as soon as possible to prepare for a reopening. Superintendent Amy Wooliever said she is working with the district’s reopening committee to address new requirements from the county education office, including plans for student flow through campuses, communication with families and testing and contact tracing plans to be executed by the district.

Both school districts will be required to post their reopening plans on their websites and get them approved by both the county’s Office of Education and Health Department, a process they expect will take one to two weeks. These new requirements replace the old waiver process that districts could pursue to reopen elementary classrooms prior to moving through the red tier. District leaders said the county is likely to only approve plans that include a phased reopening.

The new county requirements will also ask districts to take on more of the burden for testing and contact tracing. Districts are not legally allowed to require students to get tested. But both districts are hoping to partner with the county to test staff biweekly through Curative, the same self-administered mouth test the city of Half Moon Bay has begun offering weekly.

“That is going to help us open,” Wooliever said. “We will have data about community spread.”

Both of the districts will also allow students and staff to choose on an individual basis if they’re ready to come back. New CUSD survey results indicate that just under half of teachers and just over half of parents are comfortable returning to hybrid in-person class. More than half of staff and two-thirds of parents are comfortable bringing back small cohorts of “at-promise” students.

General trends pointed to the lower the grade level, the higher the comfort. Cabrillo Unified Teachers Association Co-president Sean Riordan and McPhetridge agreed that ongoing labor negotiations for backpay on the 2019-20 school year likely won’t affect conversations about returning this year.

“We have heard from CUTA that they are eager to come back,” CUSD Chief Business Officer Jesús Contreras said.

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