SLO County school districts weighing options for fall

Jun 18, 2020

What will student learning look like when the new school year starts? The San Luis Coastal Unified School District this week laid out different pandemic-prompted scenarios for how the district’s 7,500 students will attend classes in the fall.

In a typical year, summer is a time for teachers and school administrators to rest after months of educating students. But nothing about this year has been typical with the ongoing pandemic.

The San Luis Coastal Unified School District is spending this time reimagining and reorganizing the entire structure of learning, and everything’s up in the air, according to Assistant Superintendent Luana Campbell.

“The thing that we all need to keep in mind, is how fluid this situation is,” Campbell said during Tuesday’s virtual SLCUSD board meeting. “Just when we think we have something figured out, something may change.”

The district has drafted three different scenarios labeled Plans A, B and C. Plan A is a return to regular in-person teaching with extra safety precautions. B is to combine in-person with smaller class sizes and online learning for a hybrid education, while C is distance learning only.

Assistant Superintendent Kimberly McGrath said Plan C is not the ideal choice, and Plan B is the most complicated of the three.

“Plan A is our preferred plan which is an in-person plan with extensive precautions,” McGrath said.

Those precautions include more cleaning, creating more space between desks and requiring teachers to wear facial covering. But instead of masks, district officials say face shields are more ideal for teaching.

“We’ve heard a lot from pediatricians about potential instructional negative impacts from people wearing masks, and students that are needing to see facial expressions, teachers' lips moving, etcetera,” McGrath said. “So face shields are something that we’ve ordered.”

While staff and teachers would have some type of face covering, the district is not looking at making students wear one. As the parent of a district student, Devin Casey is urging the district to reconsider that.

“I know there is an argument that kids don’t like wearing face masks,” Casey told the school board. “But that just means if we leave it optional, fewer would choose to wear them. Kids don’t like doing homework or taking tests, that doesn’t mean they should be optional,” Casey said.

Some classes, like performing arts and physical education, have been noted as having higher risk for disease spread.

McGrath said the district is waiting on the county health department for word on when—or even if—athletics will start back up in fall.

“We do have, if we are in plan A, B or C, different protocols in place for what athletics could look like,” McGrath said.

The district is reviewing a multitude of details in making a decision on which approach works best for students and staff, while also considering what parents want to see, and it’s too soon to know what things will look like for the first day of school at the district’s schools in San Luis Obispo, Los Osos, Morro Bay, Edna Valley and Avila, as the debate among the three options continues.