Editor’s note: This is a developing situation and we’ll continue to update.
UPDATE 2/13/21 — Earlier this week we reported on back-to-school plans for the big districts, now we’re rounding out that coverage with details from the many small districts in Mendocino County.
Potter Valley schools, which were the first to return to the classroom last fall, when transitional kindergarten through first grade students went back, have now set dates for the elementary grades going back to the classroom. Those youngest students were allowed to go back to the classroom last year because the district acted just before the county went from the red tier to the more restrictive purple tier. If schools open in the red tier, they can stay open.
“TK-1 paused in-person instruction after Winter Break. They will be returning to the in-person hybrid instruction on February 22nd,” Potter Valley superintendent Holly McLaughlin wrote in an email.
“Grades 2-6 will be back on March 8, also in the in-person hybrid model. The hybrid model splits every grade into two groups. Each group coming to school two days a week,” she said.
Potter Valley staff have all been offered vaccines.
“All of our staff have been offered both doses of the vaccine at this point. We are very happy that students will be returning to campus, where they belong. Many of our families are struggling with distance learning and we hope to serve them better now,” McLaughlin, wrote.
Calls to the other smaller school districts around the county found no other back to the live classroom dates had been set. All said they were torn between the benefits and the dangers of going back to classes in the school buildings. All the local schools were providing vaccines to teachers and staff who wanted to be vaccinated and watching daily case counts in the hopes of getting back to the classroom.
Warren Galletti, superintendent of Point Arena Schools, said some staff were getting their second vaccine doses this weekend but another group would still be getting their vaccines after that. He said when the vaccinations are complete, the district will take a look at COVID-19 conditions and consider reconvening a committee to evaluate when students should return to the classroom..
“We will get as many students back into the classroom as soon as we can, hopefully that will be this spring,” he said. He said the district didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize a full return in the fall.
Jason Morse, superintendent of Mendocino Unified School District, said second vaccine doses were being administered on Friday.
“We are continuing to work toward a date, but none has been set yet,” Morse said. He said the school board at its Thursday night meeting discussed the idea of waiting until the county was in the red tier before reopening, as there are so many more requirements to opening schools in the purple tier, such as frequent testing requirements.
Calls to the Leggett and Laytonville school districts also found that no dates for back to the classroom had been set. Anderson Valley and Round Valley schools could not be immediately reached. Information about those districts will be added to this story when it becomes available.
With Ukiah and Fort Bragg elementary schools headed back to the classroom in the next two weeks, Ukiah Unified issued a public service announcement to remind drivers to be safe.
The press release follows:
It’s never more important for drivers to slow down and pay attention than when kids are going back to school. Back to school brings more traffic congestion. School buses are loading passengers, kids on bikes are hurrying to get to school, and parents drop their kids off before work.
Remember these things to keep our children safe as they go back to school:
- Slow down and pay attention. If you are driving around schools, look out for children and pedestrians at all times, everywhere. Expect the unexpected. Foot traffic is higher as children are going back to school.
- Exercise caution if you’re driving near a school bus and allow a greater following distance than when you’re driving behind a car. Watch for children when school buses stop to unload and load children. And don’t forget passing a school bus is illegal.
- Watch out for bicycles. Children on bikes can be hard to see, and they usually don’t understand traffic conditions.
By exercising extra care and caution when driving in school zones, pedestrians and children will be safer in our community. Visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website for more back to school safe driving tips. https://www.nhtsa.gov/
FORT BRAGG, 2/9/21 — Thanks in part to vigorous local vaccination campaigns, and to declining cases of COVID-19, Mendocino County grade school students appear to be headed back to the classroom, with each of the county’s many school districts developing their own plan for who, how, and when. However, all progress depends on the county’s new COVID case rate staying below an average of 23 cases per day, as well as county and state approval.
The Ukiah Unified School District has been at the head of the class statewide in vaccinating staff. They plan to reopen for in person class on February 16, and will include children in mixed grades, through sixth grade.
At a special meeting Monday night, the Fort Bragg Unified School District, which also was early in getting staff vaccinated, approved a reopening plan that is set to begin in-person classes Feb. 22, and also to include students in mixed grades through grade six.
The Willits Unified School District is shooting for reopening for lower grades sometime in early March. The Willits (Unified reopening plan can be read here)
Terry d’Selkie, who represents the Ukiah Teachers Association, said vaccines have made going back to school much safer for all. She strongly opposed the district’s reopening plan when it was proposed back in July.
“Yes, everything turned around with the vaccinations. People feel safer and everyone who wanted a vaccine got one…well, really two! Some people will get their second dose on Feb. 11th, so it is not long enough for those folks to take full effect, because we are opening on Feb. 16th.”
She said all the school districts are working on vaccinating their employees. “We are the first district in the county to go back to in person, even though the majority of cases of COVID-19 are in Ukiah…go figure! We were fortunate to have our city manager working with Superintendent Kubin to get vaccines for teachers early. Also, UUSD is going to be doing weekly testing and is the first in the state to do this COVID testing weekly with 15 minute swabs. Children and teachers will have the opportunity to be tested weekly, though it is not required, and students will need parent permission,” d’Selkie wrote in an email.
Doug Shald, Communications and Community Engagement Officer for Ukiah Unified said Kubin worked with the City of Ukiah, State Senator Mike McGuire, Assemblyman Jim Wood, the county health department and district health personnel to make the vaccines for employees happen as early as it did.
“It took all five to get it done,” said Shald. Shald believes that Ukiah was one of the first districts in the state in getting its staff vaccinated.
The plan for Fort Bragg
“Mendocino County has maintained fewer than 25 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents for more than five consecutive days. If this trend continues, FBUSD will be able to open schools to students in preschool through 6th grade soon,” FBUSD superintendent Rebecca Walker wrote in a letter to parents. Walker submitted all the required safety plans and reopening documents to the county and state on Friday, Jan. 29. Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren has seven days to review and approve the documents, she said.
Fort Bragg schools currently plan to return to school two days a week (either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday) on February 22 for preschool, kindergarten, 3rd grade, and 6th grade. February 22 is ten days after school employees will have received their second dose of the Moderna vaccine, she said — though vaccines are optional. Then on March 1, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade, will all return, unless there is another flare up of the pandemic in between.
However, the situation is different for older children and teens. “The California Department of Public Health does not allow grades 7 to 12 to return to school until our county is in the Red Tier, which means Mendocino County will need to have fewer than 7 positive COVID-19 cases per day per 100,000 residents for five consecutive days. We will get there!” Walker wrote parents.
Parents can opt-out in all the districts
Distance learning will remain an option in Fort Bragg and in the other districts, “Any family may choose to remain in distance learning for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. However, if you decide to send your student to campus at a later date, you may need to wait for a seat to open to accommodate your child’s return to campus,” Walker told parents.
What happens if a student or staff member gets COVID after schools reopen?
“We will need to temporarily close schools if a staff member or student is infected with COVID-19 and the infected person was on campus. Click here to see our protocols for closing schools due to COVID-19,” Walker told parents.
How will staff and children be screened?
“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 all staff members and students physically present on any campus. Parents and visitors will not be permitted beyond the front office. Students may not come to school while anyone living in their home has COVID-19. If anyone living in your home has COVID-19, do not send your children to school,” Walker wrote.
The plan for Ukiah
As in Fort Bragg, teacher vaccinations have helped create a safe back to school situation.
“Every employee that wants to get the vaccine has received the first dose, and a majority of those have already received the second dose,” Shald wrote in an email.
“Mendocino County Public Health has approved the Ukiah Unified COVID Safety Plan, and we will know if it is approved by California Safe Schools for All by today [Tuesday]. Once our plan is fully approved and our case rate in Mendocino County is under 25 positive cases per 100,000 population, we will begin our phased reopening to in-person instruction. Our projected phased reopening date is Feb. 16, for grades TK – 2, Ages 3 – 22 Special Day Classes, Grade 5 at Eagle Peak, and Grade 6 at Pomolita. This is contingent on local health conditions and approval of our COVID Safety Plan, “ Shald wrote.
“During the second week of the grade reopening projected to start on February 22, 2021, we would open Grades 3 – 6 (including Eagle Peak Grade 6).”
The upper grades have to wait
“Grades 7 – 12 are subject to being in the Red Tier. We are not sure when we will be in the red tier as a County, so we have not specified a date for reopening Grades 7 – 12. Again, this is contingent on local health conditions and approval of our COVID-19 safety Plan by the California Safe Schools for All Team. View the Ukiah Unified COVID Safety Plan on our website,” Shald wrote.
The state has had Ukiah’s safety plan for more than 7 days. Shald said the state has seven days to get back with any changes, so the district is assuming it has approval to go forward.
The Mendocino Voice will update this story with opening dates from the rest of Mendocino County’s school districts as that information becomes available.