New School Year to Begin with Distance Learning

Written by Theresa-Marie Wilson

Theresa-Maria Wilson has been a journalist covering the North Coast and South County area for over 20 years. She is also the founder of Cat Noir CC and is currently working on a novel.

August 14, 2020

Schools in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District can still apply for a waiver exempting them from the State’s ban on in-person instruction, but, for now, that isn’t part of the plan for fall.

“Our school board has approved distance learning through December,” Assistant Superintendent, Educational Services, Kimberly McGrath told Estero Bay News. “Our hope is to apply for some small group in-person learning with teachers that volunteer to work with students in person.”

San Luis Obispo County was placed on the State’s COVID-19 County Monitoring List on July 16 resulting in the ban. However, the State allows local health officers to grant waivers to elementary schools for in-person instruction when requested by a local superintendent (or equivalent for charter, private, and parochial schools) and in consultation with labor, parent and community organizations.

“We will continue to prioritize and prepare for safe in-person learning for elementary school students as provided for in the State’s guidance,” said County Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Brescia in a news release.

Submitted waiver applications must follow State guidelines which include mask wearing from 3rd grade up, staff/family education, distancing, health screening and training. Establishing a point of contact between the Public Health department and individual schools would be required to facilitate procedures should cases break within a school setting.

“We want a rapid communication channel within any school to address any such outbreak within a school setting, be it with a student or staff.” said SLO Board of Supervisors Chairperson Lynn Compton in a social media post.

At this time, the majority of county schools are continuing with distance learning that began in March.

Waivers are issued based on the most current scientific data and a review of local epidemiological data, in consultation with California Department of Public Health, along with other public health considerations, County officials said.

“COVID-related risks in schools serving elementary age students are different from the risks to staff and students in schools serving older students,” said County Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein. “There appears to be a lower risk of child-to-child or child-to-adult transmission in children under 12-years-old, and the risk of infection and serious illness in elementary school children is considered low.”

Dr. Brescia and Dr. Borenstein sent a joint letter to local elementary school leaders inviting them to apply for a waiver through the County Public Health Department.

“The health-related risks for elementary age children who are not provided in-person instruction are significant, including lower rates of immunizations, higher rates of undetected child abuse and neglect, and other indicators of public health and wellbeing,” the letter stated.

“Moreover, in-person instruction is academically and socially critical for younger students, in alignment with State standards. Students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly harmed by a lack of access to in-person instruction. Schools serving elementary school students are also in a better position to put into place effective risk-reduction strategies to protect both teachers and students, including creation of small, stable classroom cohorts. Further, elementary school students without access to in-person school are far more likely than older students to require alternative group childcare arrangements when schools are closed, and as such, closure of elementary schools is less likely to significantly reduce transmission.”

Because the State currently prohibits middle schools opening under any conditions, districts could consider those campuses for additional space for elementary levels, Compton said.

That could possibly accommodate further distancing for those elementary schools looking to open.

Waiver requests are expected to take at least one week for review after submission.

“We have not applied for a waiver yet,” said McGrath. “We need to continue with our collaboration and communication. We do not have plans to bring back an entire elementary school.”

SLO County must remain off the County Monitoring List for at least 14 days before broader in-person instruction may reopen. School starts August 24.

School District Website Information

• Weekly meals will continue to be provided to students by food services.
• The district will coordinate with the cities of Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo as well as the YMCA and other non-profits to provide options for families and staff who require childcare beginning at the start of the year.
• We will provide all students with Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots as needed.
• We will coordinate with our site administrators and staff to ensure students have access to instructional materials at home.
• We will provide small group specialty classes for specific student populations who require in-person learning and support while we remain in the distance learning model. These classes will be closely monitored by district staff in partnership with the San Luis Obispo County Public Health department.
• Students who wish to participate in extracurricular activities may do so outside of the school day once it is safe and we receive the necessary guidance.
• The Family Resource Center will continue to provide for basic needs. If you or someone you know needs assistance, please do not hesitate to contact them at 805-596-4033 or email at

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