San Luis Obispo County moved back into the red tier of the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy on March 3, opening the door for in-person instruction to resume. With that decision left up to local school districts, some teachers are pushing for vaccines first, school openings second.
Coast Unified School District, with campuses in Cambria and Cayucos, is slated to hold a public hearing on March 11 to decide whether its schools will continue distance learning, reopen campuses, or create a mix of the two for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.
Ahead of the hearing, 12 Cambria teachers from Santa Lucia Middle School and Coast Union High School submitted a letter to the board citing concerns about reopening campuses before teachers are vaccinated.
"We do not feel comfortable with our school reopening until we are all fully vaccinated and have waited the appropriate amount of time after the last vaccine shot for it to be fully effective. We are concerned about how easily this horrible virus can spread," the letter stated. "Even just one teacher, student, or family member getting this virus is one too many."
The letter went on to say that although COVID-19 positive testing rates are decreasing, the teachers feel that relaxing the district's current efforts "could clearly lead to these numbers moving in the opposite direction, quickly, especially with the news of more contagious variants spreading."
"If we don't feel safe in our work environment, it is impossible to be the teachers we want to be. While distance learning is not ideal, it is safe, and safety comes first. We care so deeply about our students and their learning, and want nothing more than to get back to 'normal' but feel that this is not the right time with no teacher being fully vaccinated," the letter read.
Coast Unified is proposing that Santa Lucia Middle School and Coast Union High School operate from 8:10 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. and 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., respectively, with teachers and students who have the option to participate in the classroom or remotely. Students in classrooms with remote teaching instruction would be supervised by school staff.
For the Cambria Grammar School, the district proposes it would run from 8:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. The school would have students in classrooms receiving direct in-person instruction with separated recess spaces for all grade levels to reduce contact between student groups.
The district could also opt to continue with its distance learning program—two 30-minute online class sessions per day with assigned independent work, totaling a four-hour instruction day.
Coast Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Kyle Martin told New Times that throughout the 2020-21 school year, the district received occasional letters from parents stating their support for or opposition to distance learning.
With the county's recent return to the red tier, Martin said, there has been a lot more comment from the community on the district's next steps for the last two months of the school year.
"It's coming from, again, both sides. I think primarily parents expressing their concerns for distance learning and wanting to have a change where students can be back in person and I think more, but not all, of the teachers have taken a position of not being ready as far as vaccinations go," he said.
Martin said the board is also taking into consideration opinions from its Cayucos campus, which is more supportive of reopening classrooms.
"It's very difficult because one of the realizations I've come to is nobody's wrong with their opinions," he said. "There's not one single answer that addresses everyone's needs or everyone's viewpoint."
The other challenge to consider is the size of the district. For example, Martin said, the foreign language, sixth-grade language, and social studies departments are staffed by one person.
"We don't have a bigger staff that we can divide people up and say, 'OK, you can handle the in-person instruction and you can handle online.' It's the same person," he said. Δ