The road to getting kids back to school in San Benito County took another big turn as the state is now moving forward with full remote instruction.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press conference July 17 that all schools in counties on the California County Monitoring List must conduct only distance learning. San Benito County is one of more than 30 counties on the watchlist.
Newsom’s order was based on updated guidance from the California Department of Public Health. He said that schools can have in-person classes but not until the county has been off the state’s Covid-19 monitoring list for 14 consecutive days.
“Schools that don’t meet this requirement, they must begin the school year this fall through distance learning,” Newsom said.
One of the guidelines when in-person instruction resumes is that all staff and students in the third grade and up must wear a mask at all times. Students in the second grade and below are encouraged to wear either a mask or a face shield.
San Benito High School District said in a press release that the Board of Trustees scheduled a special meeting July 21. There they will ratify a resolution formally approving a full distance learning approach for the 2020-21 school year scheduled to begin Aug. 13.
According to the press release, students will take two classes at a time in six-week increments, each counting as a full semester during each grading period. This schedule will allow the school to transition from distance learning to in-person instruction when conditions allow, keeping students in cohorts.
Shawn Tennenbaum, superintendent at San Benito High SD, had recently announced the school was ready to present two different options to the board. The first model was a “hybrid” approach, which is a blend of in-person and remote learning.
The plan was to have students attend school each morning or afternoon on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. The other model was distance learning but Friday’s announcement assured that all schools are headed in that direction anyway.
Access to internet and devices has also been marked a high priority, with the state investing $5.3 billion in additional funding to make learning more equitable, according to state officials.
San Benito High said it will continue to work with San Benito County Public Health Department regarding guidelines, protocols and safety features. They said if in-person instruction resumes then students will continue to take two classes at a time in the hybrid model.
San Benito High SD is asking parents to fill out an informational survey regarding which format they prefer their children to attend when school starts in August. The goal is to gather information in case a hybrid or a full remote instruction and learning format is available.
Other guidelines set by the state include school staff will be required to get tested for Covid-19 on a regular basis and the state contact tracing workforce will be directed to prioritize schools.
Newsom said that if five percent of a school tests positive for Covid-19 then the school must close. If 25 percent of schools in a district have positive cases that reach that five percent threshold, then the district must be closed within a 14-day period.
“None of us want to see education virtualized—at least I don’t,” said Newsom during his press conference. “The one thing we have the power to do to get our kids back into school is look at this list again: wear a mask, physical distance, wash your hands, minimize the mixing. The more we do on this list and we do it at scale, the quicker … we’re going to mitigate the spread of this virus and kids are back in school.”