SLO County school districts discuss reopening plans in 'Returning to School Safely' webinar

Posted at 10:26 PM, Nov 16, 2020

As both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties move back into the purple tier, many parents and guardians are wondering what that means for schools reopening.

Monday night, school leaders representing students from pre-k to college-level held a webinar to discuss what their statuses are and what reopening plans look like.

Navigating the ups and downs of school closures and re-openings has been a tricky one for school communities who are still trying to remain positive as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

Cal Poly students are now making up much of the recent cases, something Cal Poly President Dr. Jeffrey Armstrong says they are working on preventing from surging.

"Enforcement has been very strong in partnership with SLOPD. We've had over 260 cases that have gone to our Student's Rights and Responsibilities, with 56 of those involving off-campus gatherings. We have had some students suspended and asked to move off-campus as well," Dr. Armstrong said.

Several school districts in San Luis Obispo County like Paso Robles Joint Unified School District, San Luis Coastal Unified School District, and the Atascadero Unified School District now have their eyes set on a hybrid reopening for all grades that haven't returned to the classroom yet by January.

Districts like Atascadero Unified are offering three options for students that include: in-person instruction, distance learning, and independent study.

"It may be interesting for folks to know the numbers for us in both the elementary and secondary education survey were right about 50% were choosing in person or vise versa distance learning; those numbers happen to work out well for us and we're happy to be able to provide those choices," Tom Butler, superintendent of the Atascadero Unified School District, said.

School leaders say reopening in January will still come with challenges like if a student wants to stay distance learning and their teacher goes back to the classroom.

"We're expecting 50 percent of families are choosing distance learning. That has a dramatic impact on staffing and the underlying theme of the question of: 'How in the world can you keep the continuity with your child's teacher and keep those options for families?' and that is the hard reality of this," Dr. Eric Prater, superintendent of the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, said.

"Everything is consistently changing and it's important to remember the three things: to be flexible, be patient, and to be kind to each other," James Brescia, San Luis Obispo County Superintendent of Schools, said.

In Monday's webinar, San Luis Obispo County Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein said schools that are already open can continue with their full reopening plans.

Those that do not have a school reopen can still submit a waiver, but the waiver is only available for elementary schools.

Dr. Borenstein says at this time, Lucia Mar still has not submitted a waiver.

During the webinar, Dr. Borenstein also took time to touch on the mental impacts of schools being closed and the benefits of in-person learning. To watch the meeting, click here.

Most of the school districts in San Luis Obispo County have school board meetings this week where they will be discussing reopening plans.

It is unclear at this time if there will be changes to schools in Santa Barbara County as the county returns to purple.