Local Schools to Reopen in March

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

February 25, 2021

The San Luis Coastal Unified School District Board of Trustees voted to reopen schools including Los Osos Middle School.

Local schools should be reopened for “hybrid” learning by the middle of March, with the youngest kids going back to school before the older kids.
The San Luis Coastal Unified School District Board of Trustees voted Feb. 16 to adopt a reopening plan put forth by District Superintendent, Dr. Eric Prater, subject to any changes that might come down from Sacramento or the CDC, should the coronavirus pandemic emerge in another wave of infections.
In Resolution No. 18-20-21, the board lays out the history of the school closures that went into effect in April 2020, what the District has done to try and keep kids learning via the Internet, and sets a schedule for when teachers would return to school and when students — by grade — can return, as well.
According to the staff report, “The Superintendent recommends the first day of in-person hybrid instruction for grades K-2 [kindergarten through second grade] shall be Thursday, March 4, 2021.
“The first day of in-person hybrid instruction for grades 3-6 at elementary schools shall be Monday, March 8, 2021. The first day of in-person hybrid instruction for 6th graders at Los Osos Middle School and grades 7-12, if permitted to return by CDPH [California Department of Public Health] guidelines and law, shall be Monday, March 15, 2021.”
So barring a momentous spike in COVID-19 cases leading to reinstatement of the Governor’s stay-at-home orders, and schools getting closed once again, kids will be back to the classrooms at least half a day possibly in time for Spring Break.
Children have been taking online classes since the start of the pandemic nearly a full year ago. Last year’s students missed out on all the end of school activities, which for high school seniors included graduation, not to mention cancelation of all the spring sports.
This school year, the fall and winter sports have not competed either and there is hope spring sports can return when the kids go back to school.
This school year began as the last one ended, with schools bereft of students and kids learning online.
The reopening plan drafted by Resolute Associates, LLC of San Luis Obispo, with various aspects worked on by committees of teachers and other school officials, said, “Any level of school reentry will have some risk to students, staff, and the community of increased virus transmission. This reentry plan offers methods and guidance that aim to minimize transmission rates, provide educational opportunities, and enable District schools to be adaptive and flexible to changing conditions.”
That phrase, “changing conditions” could be used to sum up the coronavirus pandemic response by the State, as several methods of quantifying the virus’ spread have been used by the Governor’s Office and the California Department of Public Health, sometimes switching metrics with little notice.
For example, not allowing restaurants to serve indoors, then limiting it to outdoors only, then only takeout service was allowed, and now, a return to outdoor dining, is just one aspect that has spread confusion and hardship throughout the state.
As science has learned more and more about the virus, guidelines have changed. “On Dec. 30, 2020,” the District’s plan reads, “CDPH released new scientific findings and a corresponding rationale stating that a growing body of evidence shows particularly strong findings that lower risks of transmission of COVID-19 occur at elementary schools, children have lower rates of infection compared to adults and, even in communities with high COVID-19 case counts, the use of layered and carefully implemented mitigation strategies prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
The guidelines set a rather low bar for school re-openings. “Under the Guidance,” the Board’s Resolution reads, “a school is considered to be ‘open’ or to have ‘reopened’ if they offered all students, in at least one grade, the option to return for in-person instruction for at least part of the school-week. The District may not have met this definition of ‘open’ or ‘reopen,’ because the only educational programs that were open were transitional kindergarten and small cohort services.”
The CDPH had set reopening standards that were too tough to meet, as originally the standard was when the “County COVID-19 case rate is less than 25 cases per 100,000 population per day for five consecutive days before the school reopens,” plus the District had to post its reopening plan and seven days had to pass “without subsequent disapproval,” according to the Resolution.
The CDPH lowered its cutoff rate to “less than seven cases per 100,000 population over a seven-day average,” which the Resolution points out would fall in the “Red Tier” of the Governor’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy.
On Jan. 26, the CDC released new guidelines based on the latest scientific findings. The CDC said, “There has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission” with preventative safety measures in place. “CDC also urges schools to open, stating ‘It is critical for schools to open as safely and as quickly as possible for in-person learning.’
“The CDC explained that ‘Schools play an important role in children’s educational achievement, health, and wellbeing,” and that “schools can also play an important role in slowing the spread of COVID-19, while ensuring that children have a safe and healthy learning environment.’”
Also, new CDC Director, Rochelle Walensky said, “Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.” But she also cautioned that new COVID-19 variants popping up across the country could threaten that positive momentum.
The Resolution also points out that California had already vaccinated 4.4 million people and that teachers and school staff are included in the current phase of vaccination and so they should soon be able to make an appointment to get the vaccine through the County Health Department.
“Throughout the past two months,” the school board’s Resolution reads, “the District has been in constant communication with the San Luis Obispo County Health Department to coordinate and encourage the delivery of COVID-19 vaccinations to District staff.”
News reports locally and across the nation have decried that school kids are falling behind fast in their grades, and are suffering mental health crises. The District Board acknowledged it’s happening here too.
“The impact of distance learning on students, which has resulted in a significant decline in first grade reading proficiency compared to last year, and increases of D’s and F’s for several categories of seventh and eighth grade students. These findings are consistent with statewide research released in the past month showing ‘substantial learning loss’ overall in English language arts and math, especially in the elementary grades, and a substantial increase in failing grades.”
The District has done its best during a difficult time. “The coronavirus has impacted all of our District community — students, staff and families,” Superintendent Dr. Prater wrote in the reopening plan. “Through it all, the District has continuously done our very best to provide uninterrupted educational opportunities for all of our students.
“Together we have been resilient and creative, as we all have learned to navigate safely through this pandemic emergency.
“We are now entering a new phase where we must remain nimble and flexible in our roles as educators as we care for students and staff. When school reopens in the fall, whether virtually or in person, it will not look the same. This will be a challenge and require all of us to be our best selves while COVID-19 remains a part of our reality.”
Of note, when Morro Bay High School students go back to class hopefully by March 15, they will have a noticeable absence in the new administration building.
Principal Dr. Kyle Pruitt, who left on leave last year, no longer works at MBHS.
“Dr. Pruitt is currently out and will return to SLCUSD later this school year,” Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Kimberly McGrath, said. “He has resigned as principal of Morro Bay High School for the next school year.”
Assistant Principal Jeff Cadwallader “is currently serving as the interim principal,” she said.
McGrath said the plan is to start recruiting for a new principal after the end of school in June.

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