Elementary school students in Colusa and Arbuckle are a step closer to returning to school, and if Colusa County remains on the upward trajectory on the state’s four tiered COVID-19 plan, junior high and high school students might soon follow.
Colusa Unified and Pierce Joint Unified have applied for waivers for the return of elementary students through the sixth grade to in-person instruction. Maxwell and Princeton K-6 students have been in their classrooms for nearly a month.
“The district has been approved for the elementary waiver by the county health department,” said Pierce Superintendent Carol Geyer. “Arbuckle Elementary and Grand Island Elementary Schools will reopen on Oct.19. Transitional Kindergarten, Kindergarten and First grades at AES will actually start the Friday before to get them acclimated a day ahead of time.”
Colusa and Pierce have been working since July on a safe transition from distance learning to in-person instruction to get the required support from parents and employee unions, school officials said.
At Arbuckle Elementary School, it was the classified staff that was the last group to sign on to support the waiver, largely out of concern that many Pierce Unified employees were resistant to wearing face coverings, a recommendation of state and local public health officials to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“If they are not wearing masks on campus, they are not wearing masks in public where they are more likely to get something and bring it back,” said Classified representative, Meghan Miller, at a recent school board meeting.
At Colusa Unified, it was the teachers union that held out until those willing to go back into the classroom were comfortable with the reopening plan, as support largely depended on the precautions and procedures the waiver outlined.
In both districts, parents surveyed were overwhelmingly in support of students going back to school, with most in agreement that distance learning is failing their children’s social, emotional, and educational needs.
“We had nearly 600 parents participate in our survey,” said Colusa Superintendent Jeff Turner.
Of the parents with students in Colusa’s K-6, who completed the survey, 74 percent of those responding in English supported the school getting a waiver to open; 77 percent who responded in Spanish supported the waiver as well. When surveyed, about 62 percent of teachers and 62 percent of classified staff supported returning to school,Turner said.
While about 70 percent of parents said they were totally comfortable or comfortable with some concerns about their kids returning to school, about 20 percent of parents responded that they are not comfortable with their children being on campus at all.
Turner said the district would continue to offer distance learning to students who do not return. The remaining K-6 students will have a hybrid model that will combine in-person instruction with distance learning.
“Overwhelmingly, parents say they want their students to come back to school,” Turner said.
The first day of in-person instruction at Burchfield and Egling is Thursday, Nov. 5, although students may be on campus before the start of school to learn the ends and outs of the coronavirus protocols that have been put into place.
The districts’ reopening plan requires teachers, staff, and students to maintain six feet of distance, wear face coverings, undergo temperature checks, and frequent hand washing.
Schools also ask parents to keep students home if they are sick.
If Colusa County maintains the red tier for two weeks, the state may allow schools to open for 7-12 students.
Turner said about 91 percent of parents of students in junior high and high school said they were comfortable with their kids returning to campus.
“Only 9 percent said they were not comfortable at all,” Turner said.
Turner said that when schools reopen, he anticipates that about 20 percent of parents may still choose distance learning for their children, which would likely result in a reorganization of students and classroom teachers.
It is possible, if Colusa County COVID-19 cases remain low, the state will allow all schools to open with safety precautions in place by the end of October or beginning of November. ♣