When Sacramento health officials gave schools the green light to re-open for in-person instruction on Oct. 13, administrators with the county’s 13 school districts went into a planning frenzy. Twin Rivers Unified School District Superintendent Steve Martinez was one of them.
“Boy, this is one of the few times since I’ve been at Twin Rivers that I haven’t been able to identify the right path that’s going to satisfy the majority of people,” Martinez said to the district’s board during a special Oct. 20 meeting devoted to deciding when to return.
“You have folks who want to return, and you have folks that don’t want to return," he said. "And at the end of the day, I think about our kids.”
Twin Rivers Unified’s board voted to reopen schools doors in a hybrid model on Jan. 19, 2021. The district is just one of many that have decided to return to in-person schooling, or are in the process of doing so. And there’s wide variation in how and when districts will be re-opening their doors as counties in the Sacramento region loosen restrictions.
Sacramento City Unified School District has not set a date to resume in-person schooling, but it has opened six “learning hubs” where kids of essential workers and students with special needs can learn online while being supervised. They’re also given breakfast and lunch.
Folsom Cordova Unified School District decided to re-open to elementary school students in early November. Middle schoolers will return later that month, and high schoolers will come back in January.
San Juan Unified School District will have in-person instruction starting Jan. 5, but students can choose to remain in a distance-learning option. Students with special needs will return in early November.
Yolo County’s five school districts don’t have any plans yet to bring back the majority of students, although students with special needs may already be getting in-person instruction.
But communities in the Sierra foothills have a very different reality when it comes to public schooling.
According to spokespeople with the El Dorado and Nevada County offices of education, most schools in the area are already open in some way, or will be by the end of the month.
The small Pollock Pines Elementary School District re-opened its two schools in a hybrid fashion on Oct. 6, according to Superintendent Pat Atkins. He says kids attend school in shifts, and stay in small cohorts of 15-20 students.
“It’s very regimented, when they get off the bus, they have a certain place to go to meet their teacher. And they’re not allowed to mingle with the other kids that may be in other classes,” he said.
“The breaks are all supervised, so it’s not like a free-for-all recess like they had in the past.”
Overall, he says, the in-person schooling has been going well. Atkins says they haven’t had problems with kids keeping masks on. Students sit six feet apart in the classroom and do school work at home on Mondays.
The most challenging part, he said, is instilling in the kids an awareness that they need to do their part to keep themselves safe from the threat of COVID-19.
“It’s been difficult," Atkins said. "The kids have been out for nine months, they want to see their friends and they want to mix and mingle, and just making sure we remind them that it’s for their safety that they stay in these cohorts.”
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