When Half Moon Bay resident Yadira Ramos logged on to give her input on the fall reopening of schools, she didn’t know which option was best. Four days of in-person learning, or two? Her husband argued that any amount of classroom time could expose their kids to COVID-19, so maximizing in-person learning made the most sense. But to Ramos, who had quit her job before the pandemic hit and will be able to stay home to support her kids, the two-day option seemed appropriate. She knows it won’t work for every parent, though.
“It’s a really hard situation,” Ramos said. “For parents who are working, they’re not going to have that privilege.”
As Cabrillo Unified School District leaders work to come up with a return to school plan to present to the school board on July 16, Ramos and other parents across the district are weighing in on fall options. There’s hardly a consensus.
Among the options on the table is a hybrid two-day in-person schedule with half of the students on campus at a time and take-home meals available for students. Other options include a four-day-a-week half-day model, an every-other-week schedule and combinations of the two.
According to a district presentation, an initial survey found that out of more than 1,200 families, two-thirds said they’d prefer socially distanced, in-person learning to remote options. Nearly 8 percent of respondents said they felt “extremely uncomfortable” sending their child back to school and 5.5 percent said they would not have their child attend in-person school in any form. Most said their youngest child would be prepared to frequently wash hands and wear a face covering to school. A second survey asking similar questions closed last week.
The return-to-school planning committee, composed of district officials, parents, community members and teacher representatives, has been meeting weekly to develop both a continuation of the spring’s at-home learning plan and a new fall hybrid plan based on county health and education guidance.
District Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said that planning has to be flexible as conditions change. He said he’s heard from many families: some are comfortable coming back to school, others are not, and many have individual work or health circumstances that are guiding their decision making. He said he’s also paying close attention to medical professionals, noting a report from the American Association of Pediatrics released late last month that says the risks of not reopening outweigh the benefits of remote learning.
McPhetridge is prepared for conditions to change. He posited that the state and county may revise their guidance between now and mid-July, and again before August reopening as case numbers continue to rise in California and the results of a steady reopening are realized. And after more than 40 Santa Clara County educators were told to self-quarantine due to exposure to the virus at an in-person planning meeting, safety in planning procedures is also top of mind. McPhetridge said that no Cabrillo planning meetings have been held in person and he plans to continue remote-only staff meetings through the fall.
Ultimately, McPhetridge said, the committee seeks to find middle ground and stay flexible to changing conditions and family needs.
“We know that we have to offer different things to different people,” McPhetridge said.
Kings Mountain Associated Parents President Amber Stariha is one representative serving on the district’s planning committee on behalf of Kings Mountain Elementary School families. She said waiting for direction from the state and county has slowed progress on developing a schedule, and that she expects the bulk of the work of planning site-specific logistics has yet to begin.
“It’s a tedious process,” Stariha said. “There is so much to tackle.”
Stariha said that after surveying parents and staff, most of the Kings Mountain community wants some type of on-campus instruction. But for families who aren’t comfortable, a fully remote option that addresses the technological needs of families must be available.
Hatch Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization President Kendra Holland has seen different results. Her survey of Hatch parents showed most want a full five-day schedule, which isn’t on the table. Holland said many factors, including unequal access to technology and the difficulty of remote learning for Spanish immersion students and nonnative English speakers, contribute to families wanting a full return. But she said her results are incomplete: She got just a 6 percent response rate from Latino families.
Holland said she’s working to put together a reopening committee specific to the Hatch campus, so if county and state guidance changes, her campus community
can adapt. Both Stariha and Holland are taking on the roles of supporting teachers and families by giving them the information, tools and resources they need for a safe return under any schedule.
“There’s never going to be a perfect solution,” Stariha said. “So our attitude is going to have to be, let’s make the best of what we can.”