By Jennifer Holm & Jennifer Schacher, PVUSD Board President & Vice-President
Like so many others in education, the Pajaro Valley Unified School District community has had a rough year. We are approaching the one-year mark of schools closing to in-person instruction. That feels significant. In March of last year, the thought that closures would last this long seemed possible but alarmist. Yet, here we are, faced with the reality of this pandemic’s grim toll—not just for those directly affected by Covid-19 but in all the ways the virus has impacted each member of our community.
Board members feel the impact as well. While we are trustees, we are also parents. Several of us have children in PVUSD schools who desperately miss their friends and have learning needs impacted by distance education. We have been professionally affected, either unable to work in our professions due to business closures or managing significant alterations in how we work. Some of us have had loved ones and family members who have or are currently battling Covid-19 and know very well the sense of fear and hope intertwined as we hold vigil for their recovery.
We did not make the decision to return to in-person instruction lightly. From the beginning, our primary focus has been on safety: our students and staff’s safety and the safety of their families and the larger community. We recognize that there are various safety needs. We must weigh stopping the spread of a pandemic against the significant effects of isolation on mental health, especially for our most vulnerable populations.
For the last year, the available data and evidence shifted that balance to prioritize physical wellness. A precautionary approach was appropriate until we had a better grasp of the pandemic’s trajectory, better evidence that we could open schools safely, and an available vaccine. Those items have developed in the last few months; proceeding with reopening in a cautious, systematic manner is now a reasonable consideration.
As trustees, we have heard from our constituents about PVUSD’s approach. “I will not be sending my child back until they can have a vaccine.” “Why only an hour and a half a day?” “Private schools are fully open. Why can’t we do the same?” “My child’s school is in an area where the prevalence of Covid-19 is low. Why can’t their school open fully now?” All of these are valid and understandable questions.
The choice for parents to send their children back to in-person instruction at this time is deeply personal; each family must weigh their needs and options. We are committed to providing high-quality education regardless of the student’s setting and encourage parents to reach out to their site principals for more information about options.
Choosing the hour-and-a-half option allowed the district to create a system that allowed for the least disruption in school schedules, for students to keep teachers they had come to know, and to increase instructional time. If transportation is a concern, again, we encourage parents to reach out to their school sites about options.
What options private schools have compared to public schools could be a whole column. In the context of the pandemic, it is essential to realize that creating policies for a school of 200 is very different than for a district of 20,000. Furthermore, there are guidelines from the California Department of Education that public schools must adhere to that private schools do not (or at least have more flexibility with). With the increased distribution of vaccines (including the release of a third vaccine), we may very well have more options in the fall. We expect to have a better grasp of what those might be later this spring. There are also the issues of differing demographics, funding, class sizes and variances in compliance with California Department of Public Health requirements. Comparing private to public schools without full context could lead to inappropriate conclusions.
As for opening schools in low-prevalence areas, one, the prevalence can change quickly, and two, the real-world effects of a positive case do not care about the prevalence in a given area. To this point, Rio Del Mar Elementary was the first school in the district to close because of Covid-19, but is currently in one of the district’s lowest prevalence areas. The students may live in low prevalence areas, but that may not be true of site staff, and we all must consider that as well.
This pandemic and school closures have taken a toll on everyone’s well-being. We understand that certain aspects of our transition plan work well for some individuals and others do not. However, as a board, we are focused on ensuring that the district moves through this challenge safely and sustainably.
A humbling aspect of becoming a school board trustee is realizing how many different considerations go into every decision. This column is PVUSD’s community outreach to clarify how the board arrives at its decisions. Jennifer Holm is President of the PVUSD Board of Trustees and Jennifer Schacher is the Vice-President. Their views are her own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian. Contact Holm at [email protected] and Schacher at [email protected].