Private schools thinking fall
Administrators at Wilkinson School in El Granada are giving a lot of thought to returning students to the learning environment. Adam Pardee / Review

Kerri Beffa is hoping her sixth-grade son can return to school in person when Sea Crest School opens this fall. While his learning hasn’t faltered, she says her quiet son has gotten even more shy since the start of the pandemic, and she’s hoping face-to-face class time, even masked, will help.

“I just want him back in the classroom and engaged with other students,” Beffa said.

But she knows she is lucky. Beffa has just one child to worry about, and he’s old enough to wear a mask and socially distance properly. Plus, she doesn’t have anyone in her household who is immunocompromised.

Beffa is among the parents Sea Crest’s new Head of School Lauren Miller was hoping to reach. But there are other parents who don’t want their students to return in person any time soon as well as those who are worried someone in their family could get sick at any time.

Miller said that’s why Sea Crest is planning for a parallel reopening — with cohorts of students learning both remotely and in person on the same schedule with the ability to switch to fully remote at any time. Some teachers with health concerns will also be able to teach remotely, Miller said.

“By starting this way and committing to offer two complete school options, we’re trying to get rid of the stigma that comes with all of these choices,” Miller said.

Just one major change could derail the whole thing. If San Mateo County joins the state’s watchlist, students will be required to complete remote learning for at least two weeks after the county is removed from the list.

Miller says she’s lucky to be making these decisions at a school that’s small, and where access to technology and knowledge about its use are universal.

She’s been watching the conversations and decisions happening at Cabrillo Unified School District and said she doesn’t envy the public school district’s situation, especially when funds are tight. Sea Crest is able to provide technology access to all students, and staff have spent the summer outfitting campus with additional sinks, signs in halls, personal protective equipment and rearranging classrooms to accommodate 6 feet of social distancing. Even if they do have to start remotely, Miller said, taking all these precautions early will make an eventual return much easier.

“Sea Crest and other independent schools in the county and Bay Area are agile for those reasons,” Miller said.

Beffa, too, is paying attention to what’s happening at nearby public schools, and said she feels lucky, and sometimes even guilty, to be sending her son to a school that can meet each family’s needs and where she feels he will be safe.

“Is it equal? No, it’s not,” Beffa said. “Is it fair? No. ... We chose Sea Crest because of its small class size and individual instruction, and it still rings true.”

At Wilkinson School in El Granada, the governor’s watchlist is still holding up any official announcement. Teacher and Marketing and Community Engagement Manager Isabel Mason said while a return-to-school plan has been finalized, the school is waiting to make an announcement that’s in line with state and county guidelines.

Mason said, overall, parents have been understanding about the situation. And after speaking with each family last week, she hopes the plan meets everyone’s needs.

“We all have a desire to be back, but, just as much, we want to be safe,” Mason said. “The overall safety of everyone is the first priority.”

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