Community Update March 3, 2021

A Message from the santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools

We Must Get Back to the Classroom

Today, I got to witness kindergartners experience their very first day of school in person at Vine Hill Elementary school in Scotts Valley Unified School District. What an emotional and exhilarating moment it is for all of us. It has been nearly one year since our campuses were forced to close due to COVID-19. We must urgently address the social-emotional harm and learning loss that the pandemic has left in its wake.  As of this week, we are confident that nearly 100% of our K-12 educators have been given an opportunity to receive the vaccine. Working in conjunction with all Superintendents and Charter School Leaders in Santa Cruz County, we will continue to advocate that resources be directed with educational equity at the forefront of decision-making.

young student with face maskIt is clear our state leaders understand the enormous work ahead on this front with the allocation of $4.6 billion in funding for all schools to implement vital intervention measures. This is a great start, but our districts need flexibility in both expenditures and timelines. Schools require ongoing funding for additional staff such as psychological services and mental health support, extended learning opportunities and tutoring, curriculum adoption and technology, as well as other critical resources.

We are elated that our elementary schools are bringing students back to the classroom (see schedule below). We hope that our schools will continue to engage and support our students in this new learning environment. 

Why 6 Ft. Distancing 

When students return to the classroom, they will see the results of a series of steps we have taken to create a safe environment for students and staff. Included in these mitigation efforts, is a requirement to do everything we can to maintain 6 ft. distancing between all individuals. This requirement comes from both the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Building classrooms with these spacing requirements does limit the number of students who can be present in the classroom. The CDPH guidance does state that never should distancing be less than 4 ft. however, the schools of Santa Cruz County are not interpreting this as a recommended minimum distance.

The most up to date guidance from CDPH states the following (pg. 23): 

  • Maximize space between seating and desks. Distance teacher and other staff desks at least 6 feet away from student and other staff desks. Distance student chairs at least 6 feet away from one another, except where 6 feet of distance is not possible after a good-faith effort has been made. Upon request by the local health department and/or State Safe Schools Team, the superintendent should be prepared to demonstrate that good-faith effort, including an effort to consider all outdoor/indoor space options and hybrid learning models.
  • Under no circumstances should the distance between student chairs be less than 4 feet. If 6 feet of distance is not possible, it is recommended to optimize ventilation and consider using other separation techniques such as partitions between students or desks, or arranging desks in a way that minimizes face-to-face contact. • Short-term exposures of less than 6 feet between students and staff are permitted (e.g., a teacher assisting a student one-on-one), but the duration should be minimized and masks must be worn.

The CDC also states that schools must work at “maximizing unused spaces to keep students at least 6 feet apart.”

Efforts to get a Waiver from State Tests

The US Department of Education (USDOE) recently released long-awaited guidance on assessment, accountability, and reporting requirements for the 2020-21 school year – just in time to set the stage for Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting. The federal guidance provides states with flexibility for testing students; however, it does not offer them an option to pursue a waiver of all testing requirements, something that numerous state and national labor and management organizations have been requesting. 

Additional Funding for Schools (SB86)

After two months of deliberations, the Governor and legislative leadership have reached an agreement on legislation aimed at incentivizing schools to offer in-person instruction. Statewide education partners were instrumental in making the legislation more tenable for school leaders. We are grateful to State Senator John Laird’s efforts to advocate for flexibility for schools in this legislation.
Here are some current highlights of the agreement:
  • $2 billion in Proposition 98 funding will be available for school districts offering in-person instruction by April 1, 2021. Schools that open after April 1st will get less funding. 
  • In-person instruction requirements differ depending on the county tier as defined by the Blueprint for a Safer Economy.
  • School districts currently offering in-person instruction do not need to modify their plans to be eligible for the funding.
  • An additional $4.6 billion will be distributed to all school districts, proportionally based on LCFF with an additional $1,000 for each homeless student, intended for learning recovery. 
  • The majority of the $4.6 billion will have broad flexibility and can be used for in-person programs and services through August 31, 2022.

As a result of our collective advocacy, significant changes to the legislation include:
  • All collective bargaining requirements have been removed. 
  • COVID-19 testing cadence requirements were dramatically curtailed to be limited to schools in the state’s purple tier of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy.
  • Schools looking to expand in-person services will have a less stringent pathway to exit the purple tier.
  • Schools currently offering in-person instruction are not required to take additional actions or abide by new conditions 
  • Vaccinations are prioritized for educators but staff vaccination is not a condition for returning to in-person instruction. 

 The guidance then offers various flexibilities for consideration, including:

  • Administering a shortened version of statewide assessments
  • Offering remote administration where feasible; and/or
  • Extending the testing window to the greatest extent doable, including offering multiple testing windows and extending the testing window into the summer or even beginning of the 2021-22 school year.