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June 30, 2022

Valley schools welcome students back after year marred by Covid

After vaccinating roughly 4,500 teachers and staff, County Office of Education Superintendent Faris Sabbah, alongside 10 school district superintendents, announced on Feb. 25 to more than 700 attendees that public districts would begin full hybridization in March.

“Throughout the pandemic students, parents and school personnel have shared a deep sense of urgency to help students return to their classroom safely,” Sabbah said. 

The return comes partly because of Dignity Health-Dominican Hospital’s efforts in vaccinating 75 percent of k-12 education staff, Sabbah says.

“This milestone makes such giant leaps and in moving forward with our ability to open up our schools,” he said.

Although all superintendents shared their respective timeline for the on campus return of transitional kindergarten through sixth grade, most remain unsure of when all middle and high school grades will be able to return. The county must drop from the purple “widespread” tier to the red “substantial” tier of the state’s four-tier reopening system in order for those students to return to the classroom.

The county’s current plummeting case and positivity rates could allow it to move to the red next week when Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Department of Public Health reassess county tier assignments.

For now, Scotts Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) and San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District (SLVUSD) will welcome back its youngest students over the next few weeks. The former brought back transitional kindergarten and kindergarten Wednesday, and the latter is doing the same March 16.

SVUSD then plans to bring back first-grade students on March 10, and add second and third and fourth and fifth in subsequent weeks, respectively. It could accelerate its plans to bring back students to secondary schools if the county does indeed move into the red tier soon, Superintendent Tanya Krause wrote in a letter to parents.

SLVUSD plans to bring back first and second grade students on March 30 and then third, fourth and fifth graders on April 13.

“I acknowledge there’s a lot of frustration by the community about how long this is taking, given all of the variables and requirements,” Krause said to this publication. “I am extremely proud that we are the first public school district to open up in the county. Not by much, but it was a heavy lift to get us there.”

Parents concerned about the spread of the novel coronavirus in the classroom can choose to keep their children at home and continue distance learning, Sabbah said. Those sending their children back to campus for hybrid education will meet a litantly of safety precautions sought to slow the spread of Covid-19. Those include daily health screenings, quarantine protocols, mask wearing, physically distanced desks, increased hand washing and disinfecting routines and improved air purification systems.

When students return to SVUSD campuses, Krause told the Press Banner things will move slowly.

“Our first focus is to bring kids on campus and retrain them how to do school,” she said. “For some of those students it’s the first they’ve been on a campus. For sixth graders, it may be their first time on a middle school campus and participated in a daily schedule, the same for ninth graders at the high school, except for when we’ve brought them on campus this past week, either for academic tutorial time or peer interaction in the afternoon.”

In addition to a standard orientation, students will also have to learn the new Covid-19 protocols.

“There’s basic things like ingress, egress and bathroom usage,” Krause said. “We have lots of new rules about bathroom capacity.”

After situating students, Krause said she looks forward to building social emotional growth through outreach from counselors.

“Part of this mental health impact is about not being with their friends, in a social environment with structure, so as tiers open, hopefully, we’ll be able to give students more outdoor social and academic opportunities with each other,” she said.

Although the return to class was a positive sign, SLVUSD Superintendent Laurie Bruton told the Press Banner that it was important to remember that the pandemic is not over yet.

“We are receiving questions about returning to full-time instruction and forgetting about hybrid schedules,” she said. “We all need to keep in mind that restrictions on gathering, and distance do not allow for 25 to 30 students in a classroom. There is not enough space for that.”

On March 1, both districts reached another milestone, beginning the second semester sports season. This season SVHS students will participate in boys and girls track, boys and girls swim and dive, girls golf and tennis, potentially boys and girls outdoor volleyball and football. Football players and staff will need weekly antigen testing in order to compete.

Additional reporting by Managing Editor Tony Nuñez.

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