Students return to San Ardo School after new safety and health changes were made to their campus. (Contributed Photo)

SAN ARDO — Students returned to in-person instruction Nov. 2 at San Ardo School, one of the first campuses to reopen in Monterey County with new Covid-19 safety precautions and the first to do so in South Monterey County.

The waiver, submitted by San Ardo Union Elementary School District, was approved by both county and state officials, allowing the return to in-person instruction, while the overall county remains under the most restrictive tier of Covid-19 guidelines.

“We’ve spent an extensive amount of time planning for the reopening,” said Catherine Reimer, San Ardo superintendent.

A planning committee consisting of Reimer, teachers and staff members came up with a reopening plan and the needed coronavirus safeguards to tackle before the students returned.

Among the changes made were divided desks in classrooms and tables in other areas, including personalized assigned tables that are cleaned after each meal in the cafeteria. Plexiglass dividers also have been installed to add a protective layer above social distancing and masks.

In addition, areas where students line up throughout campus have new markers to show how to space apart while getting in line, and the cafeteria has new safety barriers in the serving area.

Every room now has hand-sanitizing and hand-washing stations, as well.

“It was an extensive undertaking, but I felt as large as this facility is, and our smaller population and small numbers of Covid-19, that we could safely do it,” Reimer said.

Being a smaller school district gave San Ardo an advantage over larger towns, where school districts would have to manage thousands of students at multiple campuses.

“It would be hard to keep them spaced out when you have that many students,” Reimer said.

San Ardo now operates with a split schedule, where students spend half their day in their classroom and then the other half completing their distance learning assignments. In between the two groups, classrooms are sprayed and disinfected.

The division of classrooms between morning and afternoon sessions was made more manageable with the fact San Ardo is small enough to have combination classes, such as first graders and second graders in the same class.

The district was able to take those mixed-grade classes and divide them among their grade levels; for example, the first graders in the morning and the second graders in the afternoon.

“The split was generally pretty even,” Reimer said. “Normally it would have been one combination class that worked together, but the way our rotation schedule is working, it works pretty nice.”

The result has been small groups in classes of no more than 12 students, she said.

In addition to the facility update, training was given to not only employees, but also to families. Individual training was given to parents and children as how things would go and what they needed to do on their end.

“Parents really needed to see all of the health and safety precautions that we were implementing to feel safe about bringing their students back on campus,” Reimer said. “After they did the training, they realized it was something we were taking very seriously and would be very strict about.”

One such change was the daily screening forms parents needed to complete and submit in order for their students to be permitted on campus. There are also the two campus check-in stations to be aware of.

Overall, Reimer said responses from students have been positive.

“They’re happy to have that structure and happy to be out of their home and happy to have the assistance that they need to be successful with their assignments,” 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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