Cabrillo Unified School District students could come back as early as the first week of April after learning remotely for more than a year.
During a lengthy discussion Thursday night, Cabrillo Unified School District board members discussed reopening on April 5 for transitional kindergarten through 5th grade students. But they declined to formally approve the plan until Monday night to allow for adequate board consideration and public input. Each of the board members indicated that they would vote to approve the plan at Monday’s special meeting.
The elementary school reopening plan, which Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said has already been submitted to the county, would bring back elementary students in separate morning and afternoon cohorts for in-person learning four days a week. Each week, two more grades of students would return, starting with transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students on April 5. Classrooms, at no more than 20 students each, would not intermix.
The board also discussed reopening for middle and high school students. In-person classes would likely resume for 6th through 8th graders on April 5, following a one-week phase-in similar to the younger grades. High school seniors and juniors could be back in the classroom as early as April 12, with 9th and 10th graders back the following week. Similar to the elementary plan, older students would not be on campus full-time, but would come for staggered classes. The board plans to vote on the middle and high school plans later this month.
The board chose not to approve the elementary plan on Thursday night after board member Freya McCamant noted the details of the plan were not made clear in the documents published ahead of the meeting. She asked to schedule a special meeting for early next week to give the public time to review the plans, while also giving school officials enough time to prepare to open their doors.
“I do not want to create a precedent where a board is taking action on something that is not properly noticed to the public,” McCamant said.
The past year has seen near-constant debate around school safety as the COVID-19 pandemic has spread worldwide. With case rates declining locally, county and state officials are encouraging schools to reopen, and are even offering funding incentives to get students back to in-person learning. Cabrillo was already set to receive nearly $1 million in state funding after opening in-person pods for students with disabilities, foster youth and English language learners, McPhetridge said, in addition to $2 million for future programs.
A big part of the debate has been teacher safety. Local teachers have now been eligible for vaccines for nearly three weeks. Although Cabrillo’s teachers’ union did not include vaccinations as a prerequisite for reopening, CUSD Director of Personnel and Pupil Services Jason Owens said that nearly 60 percent of district teachers have already gotten their first dose, and every district teacher should have the opportunity to get both doses of the vaccine by the April 5 reopening.
“At this point, members of all groups have been contacted by the county to receive their first dose,” Owens said.
Each of the reopening plans is dependent on approval from labor unions, the San Mateo County Office of Education and the County Department of Health. According to Assistant Superintendent Leticia Bhatia, the majority of the school’s reopening committee, made up of staff, community and student representatives, is in favor of the proposed elementary plan. She said some members are concerned about returning to school the week after some families may have traveled for spring break.
Once open, schools will require daily health screenings for students and staff, mask mandates, physical distancing and limits on gatherings. These are consistent with county safety requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools. County officials have said that although some students, families and staff have contracted the virus elsewhere, there is no evidence of COVID-19 spread within open classrooms in the county.
After a successful elementary school reopening this winter, the La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District also made more progress toward reopening, approving its middle school reopening plan on Thursday night. The first group of 6th graders is set to return for in-person orientation on April 2, with in-person classes to resume April 12. Seventh grade is set to return mid-April, with 8th grade coming back at the end of the month. High school reopening is still to be determined.