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San Luis Obispo's Rancho El Chorro Outdoor School closing after 49 years

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Posted at 8:13 AM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 13:10:56-04

Rancho El Chorro Outdoor School in San Luis Obispo is closing after operating for 49 years, according to Celeste Royer, the program's environmental education director.

Royer said the outdoor closed after shelter-at-home orders were put in place by Governor Gavin Newsom in March as a result of COVID-19. She says she had hope that summer camps would still be able to be offered. Instead of re-opening for summer camps, a different decision was made.

"The decision to close our program was made in early May," Royer said. "We are not re-opening the Rancho El Chorro Outdoor School. That is coming to a close after 49 years."

The outdoor school is a sponsored program by the San Luis County Office of Education. In an email response, Superintendent James Brescia told KSBY that due to COVID-19, all fee-based programs like outdoor education were placed on hold, and the inability to operate the outdoor school resulted in a $500,000 operating loss for the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education. In that same email, Brescia said, "We are committed to outdoor education and have merged with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools that operates two programs in San Luis Obispo County in preparation of when we can resume in-person services post COVID-19."

According to Royer, between the four programs offered, around 7,000 students attended the outdoor school each year. Due to the shelter-at-home order, the school lost out on serving students in April, May and June, which are their most profitable months.

Royer says the news came as a shock to her and her staff.

"They were not aware that this was going to be a possibility," Royer said. "So you can imagine the kind of people who work at Rancho El Chorro and outdoor education are passionate. The dedication and commitment to this kind of education, you're not in it for the money."

Royer said the nine staff members, which include two cooks, six naturalists, and her administrative assistant, will be laid off after June 30. Royer will be retiring from her role after 31 years.

Dan Peverini, the executive director of educational services for the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, says Kern County will rent the space and also provide an outdoor school experience.

Peverini says schools across the area will still have access to the programs, it will just be run by a different county. He also said there is no set date on when programs will be able to resume due to the restrictions in place from COVID-19, but some programs will resume in the Fall.