The San Luis Coastal Unified School District and Lucia Mar Unified School District will teach online classes in the fall.
San Luis Obispo County has seen an increase in the number of cases recently, and the county is now facing tighter restrictions from the state as they have exceeded projections.
Lucia Mar, the largest school district in San Luis Obispo County with more than 10,600 students, announced on Tuesday, July 14 that they will have online-only classes for the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.
Anita McCoy is the parent of a 10-year-old student in the Lucia Mar School District. All three of her sons have grown up and attended school in the area. Her youngest son, Matthew, had been attending Branch Elementary School in Arroyo Grande since before the pandemic. After stay-at-home orders were announced, the school adapted by teaching remotely.
After the decision to keep students online for the upcoming school year was made, the McCoys decided to move Matthew to a private school where he will attend school in-person. Once the change is made, the length of their commute will change from five minutes to 10.
McCoy did not feel that her son was being adequately educated through remote learning. She said her biggest concerns were that Matthew would be at an academic disadvantage from the start of sixth grade and that he would miss out on social activities while at home.
“We were planning to send him back, because we love the public school that he goes to,” McCoy said. “And then, on Tuesday, the board decided ‘No, we’re going to do all online,’ and then we decided that’s when we were looking around to see where could we send our kid to be in-class with other kids.”
She said she has other concerns, some about the differences she sees between California’s quarantine restrictions and those of other regions.
“We have been reading about this … other schools, other nations are opening up. They have their schools, they’ve been in school,” McCoy said. “Elementary kids, especially, have been in class, and [they’re] not having issues.”
According to the CDC, children still pose a risk for contracting and spreading COVID-19.
While adults have been the largest share of victims, children and infants have been reported as having contracted the virus. According to data from California’s COVID-19 website, about nine percent of the total positive cases reported in the state have been between the ages of zero and 17. No deaths have been yet reported within that age range.
Still, McCoy said she has taken precautions, like limiting the trips her family takes, wearing masks while venturing outside and using hand sanitizer. Topflight Construction, the company she runs with her husband David McCoy, is returning to business after the beginning of stay-at-home orders.
Leah Heidt is a biology and environmental science teacher at Morro Bay High School and the mother of two sons at Pacheco Elementary School. Since the start of the pandemic, her sixth grader’s teachers have adapted to teach via Zoom for live lessons. Her second grader, Mason, was fit into a “pod” with part of his class, meeting virtually on Tuesdays, and the full class meeting on Friday. Heidt reported few complaints from her sons about their new settings.
“The sixth grader was absolutely fine with it, until the very end and then he got tired of having to do the Zooms,” she said.
As a teacher herself, Heidt had to run all of her classes out of her own home. She settled into a five-day structure, with lessons released on Monday, check-ins with students on Wednesday, and quizzes due by Friday. Tests were given on a monthly basis.
Ultimately, she said she believes that schooling is not going to return to normal, even after the pandemic is over. Heidt fears the loss of social interaction for her students and her sons, but she has also seen benefits for some students who thrive working on their own.
“I think what has been the last 200 years of school is going to be completely different because of this,” Heidt said. “I think that students will now have an option of doing things online at home, or at a school … I think that’s beneficial to the students that never really liked the big class settings, and didn’t benefit from that. I think that’s gonna be great for them.”
Ellen Sheffer is president of the School Board for the San Luis Obispo Unified School District. A resident of the county since 1995, she has also seen her children grow up and eventually graduate in the local system.
Since the start of stay-at-home orders, she and the board have worked to make the transition to remote learning smooth and equitable. They voted in March to distribute Chromebooks and hotspots to students in need. Some in-person classes with adequate social distancing and protection are being offered for students with special needs. They have authorized training in remote learning for educators.
The board’s main duties include hiring and advising the superintendent as well as serving as fiduciary for the district. According to Sheffer, between 83 and 85 percent of the district’s budget is devoted to salaries and benefits for their employees, leaving little wiggle room for disasters like the pandemic.
“This is all untrodden territory, and it all occurred so rapidly, with so little time to ramp up,” Sheffer said.
In a statement issued by San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, Superintendent James Brescia, the office and all school districts in the area will continue preparing to deliver essential services to those in the county, according to local and state orders. These include distributing food for students and personal protective equipment (PPE) for schools, approving service plans for the 2020-2012 school year and establishing calendars for the return of in-person teaching.