Watsonville Students Likely Won’t Return To School This Fall

WATSONVILLE, CA — The Santa Cruz County Office of Education confirmed Monday that it does not anticipate students will return to in-person classes in the fall.

That’s because Santa Cruz County met the criteria for the state monitoring list, which indicates state public health officials are keeping an eye on concerning COVID-19 statistics, wrote Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez and other county schools officials in an open letter Monday. Of particular concern was the fact that the COVID-19 case count has been higher than 100 cases per 100,000 people for more than three consecutive days, school officials said.

While Santa Cruz County had not been added the state’s list as of Tuesday evening, county Health Officer Gail Newel previously said that she expected Santa Cruz County to join its neighboring counties on the monitoring list.

In order for a school district to open for in-class instruction, it must be in a county that has been off the state monitoring list for 14 consecutive days. Elementary schools in monitoring list counties may eventually reopen, if a waiver is granted and if the county has been left off of the monitoring list for 14 days.

Free meal and grocery programs, social and emotional support services, and free and reduced-cost internet will still be provided during school closures, school officials said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented tremendous challenges to our education system and to the students and families that our schools serve, bearing disproportionate challenges for our most vulnerable youth,” school officials said in the letter. “We recognize that the rapid emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and sudden changes it has imposed on families has been extremely disruptive and a source of significant hardship.”

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Here’s What CA Schools Will Look Like

Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week that California’s newly signed budget includes $5.3 billion additional funding to ensure quality education.

Masks will be mandated for students in third grade and above, and recommended but not required for younger students.

The physical distancing requirements for schools are the same as for the rest of California — six feet. That includes distance between desks, and distance between teachers and students.

Testing for the coronavirus will be rigorous. It includes daily temperature checks, and a requirement to test staff regularly. At the outset of his new conference, the governor emphasized the importance of all staff members, from teachers to office workers to custodial staff. Contract tracers with rigorous training from UCLA and UCSF will be made available to schools.

Once a school district reopens, there is no guarantee that it will remain open. Individual classrooms may be sent home and schools may be required to close when an outbreak is detected. If enough schools in a district are impacted, the entire district will be required to close.

One of the most divisive arguments raging around the surge in coronavirus cases in California, and across the United States, has been what to do about the start of the new school year. Should children attend school in the classroom, online or a via hybrid of the two?

School districts up and down the Golden State have painstakingly drawn and redrawn plans this summer, with school start dates looming next month. Educators said they have to consider the children first — are they successfully learning online, is there enough technology for all students, how are children protected from COVID-19 in the classroom, and how can districts emphasize that special education students are not getting lost in the turmoil?

Teachers are also a major consideration — do they have the training and tools for distance learning, and should they be forced to return to the classroom if they have pre-existing health conditions that make them vulnerable to the coronavirus, or if they are family caregivers?

A point that has nothing to do with education, yet greatly impacts families, is the need for children to return to the classroom in order for some parents to return to the workforce.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said earlier this month that children belong in the classroom. In a joint statement with several education associations, it said, “We recognize that children learn best when physically present in the classroom. But children get much more than academics at school. They also learn social and emotional skills at school, get healthy meals and exercise, mental health support and other services that cannot be easily replicated online.”

But the pediatrics group also said that reopening plans should be based on science and should be made at the local level: “For instance, schools in areas with high levels of COVID-19 community spread should not be compelled to reopen against the judgment of local experts. A one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for return-to-school decisions.”

Patch editor Bea Karnes contributed to this report.

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This article originally appeared on the Watsonville Patch

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