As new options for public school reopening emerge, Cabrillo Unified School District leaders are considering allowing select groups of students back for in-person learning. However, any reopening is still a long way off.

Last week, San Mateo County announced that area schools can apply for a waiver to bring transitional kindergarten through sixth grade students back to campuses. Then, the state of California authorized schools to bring back students with disabilities or English learners without requiring approval from the local health department.

But the road to reopening in any form isn’t simple. The CUSD Governing Board voted last month to not bring back any students to campus earlier than Oct. 16. That is intended to give parents, employees and students time to facilitate a safe return. District Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said he is looking into the state and local options, but will consult with labor groups like Cabrillo Unified Teachers Association and with families before making any reopening decisions.

McPhetridge said district staff is working on putting together a waiver to reopen elementary schools should families, CUTA and representatives from the California School Employees’ Association agree to a reopening.

However, he said, it’s more likely that the district may take advantage of the new state rules that allow groups of students, like those with individualized education programs, to come back to campus for testing and support.

“We need to get some people back on campus for assessments that the law requires us to do,” McPhetridge said.

District officials from La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District did not say whether they would consider any in-person return. The district was forced to “restart” the remote school year this week due to evacuations from the CZU August Lightning Complex fire.

All area public schools have been entirely online this fall after San Mateo County was added to the state’s “monitoring list” last month, a designation that made its schools ineligible for in-person reopening under state rules. Under the new “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” which replaced the “monitoring list,” San Mateo County’s status still doesn’t allow full reopening. If the county’s health metrics improve, however, that might change.

The state and county waiver processes are designed to circumvent these closure orders to allow students who have a higher need for in-person learning to have limited on-campus access.

Half Moon Bay High School special education teacher Mike Barragan said there’s no easy answer for bringing back cohorts of students who need more support. Some of his students have actually benefited from at-home school, where they feel more comfortable. Others are missing out on key support from home without access to individualized help, a quiet place to work, or face-to-face connections with staff and peers.

But Barragan said the same concept — that some kids learn better from home and others better in school — could be applied to any group of students, not just special education students.

“None of us know,” Barragan said. “I understand why the people above us are taking a ‘we need more information’ approach. That just seems to be the responsible thing to do.”

Barragan said the state’s exception for special education and English language learners is based on traditional ideas that these groups need more help and the logistics of getting a small, targeted cohort back is easier and safer. But he said it’s tough to know if bringing his students back sooner than others is the right call.

“I see both sides of it,” Barragan said. “As a special education teacher, I will advocate for my kids and make sure they have what they need to help them. It’s case by case.”

If campuses were to welcome back these specific groups of students under the state’s guidance, the process would likely operate outside of the structured timeline already established for most students enrolled in the “hybrid” option. But because of the many staffing and logistical questions, McPhetridge said, it’s still too early to know exactly how any return would be implemented.

“It’s a whole new twist,” McPhetridge said. “We have so much new information.”

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