FORT BRAGG, 10/31/20 — Mendocino County’s recent move into the less restrictive COVID-19 “red tier” means a loosening of restrictions on among other things, restaurants, gyms, houses of worship, and of course schools; though a loosening of restrictions for schools won’t come into effect for two more weeks, at the earliest. These decisions will be made in consultation with the county’s public health office and according to state guidelines, but ultimately will lie with individual districts — and at least two school districts are ready to get back to the classroom.
Initial plans are for students in Fort Bragg to return to the classroom on Nov. 30. Ukiah schools plan to return as soon as health conditions allow. Ukiah and Willits schools have not announced a date to return to the classroom.
In accordance with the state’s tier system, states must wait an additional two weeks after a county moves into the red tier before they are allowed to have students return to the classroom. This means that if infection rates don’t spike, schools in the county could open as early as the middle of November. The two additional weeks must be red tier weeks, so everything could change if the county falls back into the “purple tier” during the two weeks that follow the Oct. 27 move of the county down into the red tier. The red tier indicates a county is experiencing “substantial” spread of COVID-19 while the Purple Tier indicates the more serious “widespread” infection. However, Mendocino County Public Health Officer Coren indicated at the Friday press conference that even if the purple tier is reinstated, after schools do reopen, they will not be forced to close again until a much higher infection rate is hit.
“Because of the Veteran’s Day holiday and parent conferences, the administration is recommending that we reopen our schools on Nov. 30th,” said an Oct. 28 letter sent to parents from Fort Bragg Unified School District Superintendent Rebecca Walker and all the school site principals.
Ukiah Unified School District Superintendent Debra Kubin wrote in an Oct. 22 letter published in local news outlets that the district also plans to have students back in school in a hybrid model as soon as health conditions allow. Messages were left on Friday for Kubin, seeking an update on when Ukiah schools may return. A message was also left for Willits Unified School District Superintendent Mark Westerburg.
The Fort Bragg Unified School District Board of Trustees will meet on Nov. 12 to discuss the exact date for going back to school and other details, such as how much distance learning will be required once students are back in school.
“At the Nov. 12th school board meeting, the FBUSD Board of Trustees will review the tier data from the County and determine if Nov. 30th is an appropriate time to reopen our schools,” the letter stated.
What does Fort Bragg’s hybrid plan look like?
“Families will receive a detailed plan from their school principals by Nov. 13th. Right now, we are considering a 5-day plan (grades TK-8) that allows half of our students (Group A) to attend school from 9:00-11:00 AM, Monday through Friday, and the second half of our students (Group B) to attend school from 1:20-3:20 PM, Monday through Friday. We are working with Fort Bragg High School to develop a plan that will work with their master schedule. Again, look for this information from principals by November 13th, ” the letter states.
Parents who don’t want students to return to school may continue to opt for distance learning for the rest of the 2020–21 school year in Fort Bragg.
“However, if you choose to return to school at a later date, you may need to wait for a seat to open to accommodate your child’s return to campus. You will receive a parent survey by Nov. 13th that will ask you to indicate if you prefer distance learning or on-campus instruction,” the letter states.
What happens if Mendocino County moves back to the purple tier?
“Although we don’t have complete details, the indication is that once small, rural counties reach the Red Tier, there may be greater flexibility before returning them to the Purple Tier. If we are able to open schools on November 30th and Mendocino County returns to the Purple Tier after we open, we will be able to stay open for the remainder of the school year even if the County returns to the Purple Tier,” Walker’s letter states.
“We will only need to close schools if a staff member or student becomes infected with COVID-19 and the infected person was on campus.”
The letter also explains the safety protocols Fort Bragg Unified plans to use.”Staff will screen themselves daily prior to coming to work. We are asking families to screen their children prior to sending them to school. If you need a thermometer, please contact your school front office and a thermometer will be provided to you. All staff and students must remain home if they have any cold or flu-like symptoms. Click here to review the At-Home Health Screening Guide for COVID-19. Once students and/or staff become symptomatic, they must be symptom free for 72 hours before they may return to campus. Masks will continue to be required for any staff member or student who is physically present on any campus. Parents and visitors will not be permitted beyond the front office.”