Santa Cruz County on Tuesday returned to the purple “Widespread” tier of California’s Covid-19 reopening plan. This move to the most-restrictive tier greatly impacted county school districts’ plans to hybridize education, which would have brought larger groups of students back on campus.
The Santa Cruz County Office of Education (SCCOE) in a Nov. 2 virtual town hall said it plans to fully hybridize most county schools in January 2021, as long as they have met all guidelines, including readiness systems and health conditions in the county. With change in tiers, criteria for local health conditions have greatly changed and delayed their plans.
Scotts Valley Unified School District Superintendent Tanya Krause said, “We had announced a move to hybridization in mid-January, but we will have to wait and assess the circumstances upon return from Winter Break. Look at how quickly we recently changed from orange to purple, all within one month.”
In an districtwide update, Krause said the continual change was “exhausting for all of our families as well as for our staff.”
“We will continue to stay on our current course up to winter break, unless directed to change this course by local and state officials,” she said.
In regards to Covid-19 health and safety renovations, SVUSD is “all set to go, except for being in the wrong color of state monitoring system to move into a full hybrid model,” Krause said.
At least 100 classrooms have new air purification units with two filters, and in general SV schools have “[lots of personal protective equipment] and cleaning supplies,” Krause said.
The school district already has experience with Covid-19 exposure protocol, Krause said.
“We follow the County’s Public Health protocol,” she said. “We inform the parents and the students directly through phone calls if they’ve been exposed. Then we work with County Public Health for contact tracing.”
Krause said she has also worked closely with staff to reach agreements with employees that may be exposed to the virus. She said she was in a meeting with the bargaining unit when the county went into the purple tier.
“We will continue those discussions and plans so that we can bring a [memorandum of understanding] for hybridization to our board meeting in December,” she said. “That will mean we have agreements with our staff for full-distance instruction, small cohorts, or hybrid. Regardless of monitoring status, we have agreements with our teachers for all tiers.”
Like Krause, San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District’s Superintendent Dr. Laurie Bruton is feeling the push and pull of ever-changing directives from county and state leaders.
At a Zoom meeting just two weeks ago, Bruton and SLV High School Principal Jeff Calden welcomed parents to explore the world of hybrid learning in the district. Parameters had been set for how to deal with specific concerns such as bussing, cleaning and testing; now, that’s been stymied by a move to the purple tier.
“The orange, red and purple changes happened quickly, and frankly, unexpectedly fast,” said Bruton. “We will go back to planning and implementing small groups and eventually hybrid after the holidays when things settle down.”
As for the staff, who have had to remain perpetually flexible due to shifting norms, Bruton is upbeat.
“The SLVUSD staff continues to look for ways to improve online learning. We are committed to offering in-person instruction whenever possible based on Covid-19 conditions,” she said. “Gov. Newsom’s press conference on Nov. 16 indicated the whole state needs to take a step back from opening businesses, including schools, in an attempt at slowing down the spread of the virus.”
In early November, SLVUSD had sent out a parent survey, attempting to gauge interest in the potential return to in-person learning. For now, says Bruton, those responses are being shelved.
In a statement issued to district families on Nov. 16, Bruton wrote, “I know many families are anxiously waiting for the schools to return to in-person instruction. At this time, SLVUSD will pause in the planning and implementation of an in-person hybrid schedule for all schools. SLV will continue to work on developing small group opportunities for students as Covid-19 conditions allow. The Internet Learning Center, YMCA childcare, SLVHS conditioning, and individual student assessments will continue with all Covid precautions in place.”
Updates to this story will follow as local and state Covid-19 conditions shift.