MENDOCINO Co., 11/17/20 — All Mendocino County school reopening plans for in person learning are now on hold- with one exception: Potter Valley Community Unified School District’s kindergartners and first graders who started back to school school on Monday.
By chance, Monday was the last day allowed to restart in-person classes before Mendocino County returned to the more restrictive “purple tier” for COVID-19. Just hours after Potter Valley started its youngest children back to school on Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that Mendocino County would be moved back to the purple tier starting today, Tuesday, nixing further plans for any other county schools to begin in-person instruction for at least two weeks and likely more.
Potter Valley plans to continue limited in person instruction for the two youngest grades. There are 14 kindergarten students attending classes this week, broken into two groups of seven on a hybrid model. For first grade, 21 students are attending, in groups of 10 and 11.
“We have an approved waiver to be open at these grade levels even in purple tier,” said Potter Valley Superintendent Holly McLaughlin. There are no plans in place for any of the higher grades to return to school in Potter Valley.
The other school districts that had hoped to return in 2020 — Fort Bragg (tentative date of Nov. 30), Ukiah, (Dec. 7), and Round Valley (Nov. 30 for 5-student pods) — had their plans nixed for now by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s move to put 41 counties, including Mendocino, from the red tier up to the more restrictive purple tier.
“Going back to Purple has put the brakes on our plans so we continue with distance learning until further notice,” said Mike Gorman, superintendent of Round Valley Unified School District. “Good thing is that we have made plans so once we get the Ok to open again we can move fairly quickly to implement the pods and hybrid plans,” Gorman said.
Mendocino County had been reporting numbers in the purple tier for only about one week, which would have meant the county would have “normally” been red for another week, during which time schools could have theoretically reopened and continued with current plans in the hopes for another decline. The governor cut a week off this time-frame because of the statewide COVID-19 situation- putting an immediate end to all school reopening dates except those already in session. This killed the plans of dozens of school districts around the state to return to the classroom.
For any more local districts now to resume school, the county would have to return to the red tier for two weeks, meaning time has about run out for 2020, especially with the holidays and winter vacations. Ukiah Unified School District Superintendent Debra Kubin said the Dec. 7 start has been delayed and that the district would be reaching out with a new tentative reopening plan after Thanksgiving break. Ukiah Unified is by far the largest school district in the county, serving about 6000 students.
“Due to increased COVID numbers in our county, we will not begin our expanded reopening process on December 7, 2020. I am so sorry to have to make this decision because I know how disappointing it is for many of you,” Kubin wrote to parents.
“Conditions are changing quickly, so again we will adapt. I know we will continue to pull together to get through this difficult time! We are always here for you and your family! Please reach out to your school or call 707-472-5003 if we can help you in any way,” Kubin wrote
Purple, or tier 1, means the virus is widespread in the county — with more than seven cases per 100,000 residents or more than 8 percent of tests results reported positive over seven days. Red (tier 2) means “substantial” spread, while orange (tier 3) means “moderate” spread and yellow (tier 4) is for “minimal” spread in the county.
“This means the Fort Bragg Unified School District will not be reopening schools until we are able to return to the red tier,” Superintendent Rebecca Walker told parents in a Monday afternoon letter.
“I will do my very best to keep everyone posted as information becomes available.”
The Fort Bragg Unified School board was set to meet Tuesday at 6 p.m, to continue the discussion of whether schools should reopen Nov. 30 (and other matters, including a closed session).
“They will not be able to vote on a return date until Mendocino County returns to the red tier,” Walker told parents .
Walker said high school sports has also been put on hold. Plans had been for some sports to resume no matter what the return to class date was.
“The governor also confirmed that CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) sports, while they were hopeful for a mid-December return, would be placed on hold due to an increase in positive COVID-19 cases in our state. Dr. (Mark) Ghaly, Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Department, did confirm that guidance on CIF sports would be released soon,” Walker wrote.
Some parents want students to return to school, while teachers have mostly opposed reopening under the current conditions. In school surveys at the various school sites in Fort Bragg, parents were nearly evenly divided between wanting online classes and hybrid learning models. All reopening plans by all the districts so far have allowed parents who wished to opt out of in-person classes the option to do so.
“I fully recognize that this is a frustrating time in our lives. Please know that we look forward to the return of our students as soon as possible but we must do that safely and as our tier system allows,” Walker told parents.
“Thank you for your continued patience. Stay safe, stay masked,” Walker told parents.
Many private schools across the state, such as St. Mary of the Angels in Ukiah, are holding in person classes. St Mary’s has been open since September for the primary grades with 7th and 8th grade also now back. However, the school, which has about 150 students, is operating on half days this year, said Kris Scaturro, school secretary. School districts where California’s 6.1 million public school students attend run the gamut in their approaches to back to school. Many rural districts are back in the classroom but also a few larger districts like in Orange County. Critics have called on state leaders to compose and lead a consistent statewide back to school strategy.