As the “third wave” of COVID-19 cases sweeps the Bay Area, Cabrillo Unified School District’s planned January reopening may be delayed.

The district has reopened to very limited groups of students, including English language learners and students with disabilities, but the majority of students are still learning from home. The district had set a mid- to late-January goal for reopening. But now, with new stay-at-home restrictions sweeping the state, that date might be out of reach too.

Although the state is allowing current in-person learners to continue coming to school, the district’s opening of schools committee has advised that the district not bring back additional groups of students unless the county has spent two weeks in the “orange tier” of the state’s reopening framework. That’s still a long way off as case metrics continue their upward spiral.

District Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said at the November school board meeting that he wished reopening could have moved faster, but their “baby steps” toward bringing students back are on par with most local districts.

“I hate this; I feel like we’re still in the same back and forth,” McPhetridge said. “We don't know what we don't know since spring, and we’re still waiting.”

That’s prompting McPhetridge to send out another parent survey to gauge interest in a return after the new year. He and Chief Business Officer Jesús Contreras said classrooms will be ready with the right safety materials and social distancing infrastructure in time to welcome students back, and their contact tracing is now operational. But it might take widespread availability of a vaccine to really make parents, teachers and students fully comfortable with a return.

“I hope vaccines are available in the new year for educators,” McPhetridge said. “I think that would set a lot of our workers and a lot of our families at ease.”

CUSD parent Tina Lourenco said she is frustrated by the shifting dates and inconsistent messaging coming from the district. She said many parents don’t realize that reopening conversations are limited to elementary students, and bringing back middle and high school students is still a long way off.

“What is the plan if you’re not bringing (middle and high schoolers) back?” Lourenco said. “How are you going to fulfill their social-emotional needs?”

La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District is reopening at a crawl, with new bubbles of young students returning each Monday. But its plan, too, is dependent on local COVID-19 conditions.

Before a new set of no more than 14 students may return to campus, local cases must be stable, with no more than four new cases per week for two consecutive weeks in the South Coast. Slated for the December school board meeting is a reopening plan and timeline for middle and high school students. In a letter to parents, Superintendent Amy Wooliever wrote that she understands if parents are still hesitant to send their student back to school.

“While positive benefits to in-person learning are many, I understand that some families may not be ready to return their children to campus,” Wooliever wrote. “This is OK. … This is a personal decision that only you can make for your child and family.”

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