This article was updated on July 28 at 4:30 p.m.
MENDOCINO Co., 7/27/20 — Governor Gavin Newsom announced on July 17 that all schools in counties on the state’s watchlist for counties where COVID is surging and state restrictions apply will have to open their fall semesters with remote learning. Mendocino County was officially placed on the state watch list two days ago, and Tuesday will mark three days when state restrictions will kick-in. Yet, some schools, mostly in rural areas, may be able to meet the requirements to apply for a waiver and bring students back for in-person classes, albeit in a socially distanced settings with stringent health precautions in place.
The waiver is only applicable to elementary schools that can comply with certain regulations, as explained in this document from the California Department of Public Health. It would be granted by the local health officers in consultation with the California Department of Public Health. The guidelines and requirements for the waiver application have not yet been released by the county.
We decided to check up on what the current plane, as of Monday July 27, are in Mendocino County. Here’s what school districts in Mendocino County are planning as of today:
Anderson Valley Unified will start school online August 25. The district’s administrative assistant Wanda Johnson verified that instruction would continue online until further notice. On the July 22 board meeting, Superintendent Michael Warych recommended that the schools follow online learning, with the possibility of partial reopening later in the school year. The Superintendent was not available for comment about applying for a waiver to reopen the district in-person. The next regular board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday August 11.
Fort Bragg Unified will begin school online on August 19 and continue virtual learning until at least September 11. “We don’t have any intentions at this time of applying for a waiver,” said Fort Bragg Unified School District Superintendent Rebecca Walker. The Fort Bragg School Board will have meetings on July 30, August 13, and September 10 at which they will reassess to what degree students can return for in-person classes.
Laytonville Unified plans to reopen August 24 online. “For everything else, we’re still working out the logistics,” said Superintendent Joan Potter in a brief interview. According to Superintendent Potter, the district is discussing the matter in staff meetings, contacting and surveying families, and waiting for more directions from the California Department of Education. It’s next board meeting is on August 13.
Leggett Valley Unified‘s plan for now is to begin the fall semester online. However, the district is considering the possibility of pursuing a waiver and is waiting for the guidelines for the application process to be made available, according to Superintendent Anthony Loumena. He expects the California Department of Education to release those guidelines tomorrow, July 29 and says that the district will decide whether to pursue a waiver in the next couple days.
Nobody could be reached at Manchester Union Elementary School District.
Mendocino Unified’s first day of school is August 31, and it will be completely online until at least October 15, when its board will reevaluate learning scenarios for students. That board will also hold a special meeting July 29, and a regular meeting Aug. 27.
Point Arena Schools, which include Point Arena Joint Union High, Point Arena Union Elementary, and South Coast Continuation High School, will all open with, “100% distance learning” on August 19, according to the Superintendent Warren Galletti. “Point Arena Schools is not applying for a waiver in the fall,” he clarified. The Point Arena Schools Board will discuss their options again on September 16.
Potter Valley Community Unified has not officially decided on its fall reopening plan and its Superintendent, Holly McLaughlin, was unavailable for comment. Its board is meeting on July 28 to discuss models for fall semester instruction.
Round Valley Unified will begin school following a distance-learning model on September 8. The district’s superintendent, Mike Gorman, said that they have not yet looked into the option of getting a waiver. “We’ll have to look into what exactly the waiver says,” he explained. The board will finalize its decisions regarding reopening on August 10.*
Willits Unified pushed back its opening day from August 24 to 31, and will begin the fall semester online. Its board will meet August 12 to discuss the matter further. According to Superintendent Mark Westerburg, it does not meet the criteria to apply for a waiver to reopen in person. “With our facilities, staff, and funding, applying for a waiver to be in-person is not an option,” said Westerburg. “For example…we would need to have 12 kindergarten teachers, which we can’t find…don’t have the room for, and definitely don’t have the funding for.” For Westerburg, the focus is on how to bring students from remote learning back to in-person classes once conditions improve.
The Ukiah Unified School District decided to begin the fall semester online in a special meeting on July 17. It is not pursuing a waiver at this time, according to Doug Shald, the UUSD’s communications officer. It is set to begin classes on August 17, and its superintendent, Debra Kubin, will have discretion during the school year to shift from online learning to a hybrid model if cases drop and certain safety criteria are met. The board will meet again on August 13 to establish said criteria.
The Pacific Community Charter School in Point Arena is planning to open its K-8 and high school primarily with distance learning. “We are starting online but hoping to get waivers for outdoor classes,” said Jennifer Ketring, the Management Team Chair of the school. The school is waiting for the county to release the applications for waivers, and plans to apply only to hold outdoor programs, even if the waivers allow for in-person indoor classes. “For indoor classes, we are waiting until a bigger movement to hybrid learning,” said Kitring.
According to its website, Deep Valley Christian School is planning to reopen its preschool and elementary school on August 20 in-person five days a week, following guidelines from Mendocino Public Health and in pods of 12.
As of a couple weeks ago, Tree of Life Charter School in Ukiah had already decided to reopen online. “We did a poll of our parents and staff, and the majority had reservations about sending kids to school,” said Stacy Stauss, the school’s principal, on July 16 in an interview for another article. “If we committed to hybrid learning, things might change last minute. Now, teachers can plan a robust program, get it to a place where it needs to be…and go full steam ahead on planning.”
*A previous version of this article quoted a school official who gave Round Valley School Districts’ plan for in-person schooling in the fall. The information was updated following a call with the Round Valley School District Superintendent Mike Gorman, who explained that the reopening plans had changed after Mendocino County was planed on the state’s COVID watchlist.