KING CITY — Elementary and middle schools in King City will reopen to a hybrid model on April 12, as decided by the board members of King City Union School District in a March 10 meeting.

Board members approved a staggered return plan, where TK through second grade, along with eighth grade, will return to their campuses on April 12. On April 15, the remaining grades, third through seventh, would return.

The phases would allow for the school staff and faculty to readjust to having students present in large numbers for instruction and solving pandemic guideline issues that might pop up.

The proposed schedule was for students to be on campus for in-person instruction during the morning, then leave to pick up a grab-and-go lunch and return home for distance learning in the afternoon. Complicating the logistics of scheduling were how many students would return, as district survey data showed an estimated 40% of parents wished to keep their children in distance learning.

A board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday evening to follow up on the matter of reopening plans. The March 10 meeting went on for hours as parents, teachers and community leaders chimed in both for and against the idea of reopening, including King City Mayor Mike LeBarre and Soledad City Manager Brent Slama.

Superintendent Rory Livingston said teachers had done a “fantastic job” while operating in distance learning, especially after both staff and students had been originally told the shutdown, which began last March, would only last a few weeks but has continued to this day.

“Distance learning is viable but is not the best solution,” Livingston said.

One point of contention was state money being offered as an incentive for reopening schools. Some speculated the incentive was in effect the reverse of its euphemistic label, actually a penalty for those schools that chose to remain in distance learning.

Board president Vina Paramo said she was originally on board for reopening, but over the course of the yearlong pandemic, explained she has come to choose safety over a return to the classroom. She urged district staff to use the incentive money to put student needs first, in the face of the notion that a decision to reopen was inevitable.

Timelines and teachers were other discussion topics. If the district pulls through as planned, it will have only 10 weeks of school left when reopening takes place, which some parents questioned as being worth reopening for at all.

Also, with so many students likely to remain in distance learning, teachers would have to be shifted around to accommodate a divided school setting, where classes might be split in half and need to be reconfigured, both in person and virtually, with different teachers.

“Some accommodations may need to occur, not by desire but by the framework required to run,” Livingston said.

According to Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Taylor, the district cannot guarantee that students might not wind up with a different teacher for the remainder of the year.

“The factors that play into that are how many students can we bring back on campus on a given day and what schedule we’ll be going with,” Taylor explained. “It all depends on how many students can physically be in a classroom at any given while with the appropriate social distancing.”

Board member Mildred Dodd responded, saying, “Children going to the teacher they are accustomed to working with this year will be a priority of what we’re going to be doing.” She later added, “The teacher that you see online will not be necessarily the teacher you will see in person. There will be adjustments by both the students and the teacher to the student.”

“The only way you can guarantee no changes is continuing in the status we are right now,” Taylor said.

Livingston said plans have been in development for the entirety of shutdown, and the district not only will have procedures in place for cleaning and disinfecting, but also has supplies to issue three masks to students per day.

Taylor noted groups of students have already returned to campus in the form of small cohorts, and said Santa Lucia Elementary School in particular has 80 students who show up for in-person learning through the Pro Youth program.

Before the vote, Paramo reminded the board and district staff of the complicated process they were about to embark upon.

“I don’t want us to get lost in the chaos this is also going to cause because it’s complex,” she said.

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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