Many private schools resumed in-person learning in the fall. Will the same happen at public schools in March?
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Elementary students could return to Santa Cruz schools in March as vaccination tide begins to turn

With two more vaccination clinics set for this weekend, Santa Cruz school officials believe the path is being paved for a return to some in-person learning by mid-March.

Elementary students could return to Santa Cruz area schools under a hybrid in-person and remote model in March as teacher and staff vaccinations start to fall into place, district and union leaders said Wednesday night.

Earlier plans to vaccinate thousands of teachers and school staff across Santa Cruz County were derailed by a shortage of doses and the continued age-based guidelines in place for distribution of vaccines via Santa Cruz County’s health department.

But, instead of waiting, education officials recently turned to a private provider willing to offer limited vaccinations under the more flexible state guidelines — Dominican Hospital-operator Dignity Health.

Dignity hosted two vaccine clinics for 600 teachers and staff over the past week, with education officials prioritizing those limited slots for pre-school and kindergarten.

Now, two more clinics have been added to the calendar for this weekend, offering first doses to an additional 800 more teachers and staff working in elementary schools, Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah confirmed Wednesday night. No further clinics are currently scheduled, according to Sabbah.

Both the Santa Cruz City and Pajaro Valley Unified school boards met Wednesday night, with leaders in both districts expressing optimism about the vaccine developments.

At the Santa Cruz school board meeting, Superintendent Kris Munro said the number of doses should be enough to “to get most, if not all, of our elementary teachers vaccinated this weekend, which could also put us into into a March timeline for for hybrid [reopening].”

All transitional kindergarten and kindergarten teachers in the district had received their first vaccine dose as of Tuesday night, Munro confirmed. She called the milestone an “incredible celebration” that puts the district “on a trajectory to be looking at beginning instruction — our hybrid instruction — in March for our TK-K students.”

“None of us thought we would be still in distance learning in February 2021,” Munro added. “And it’s very, very exciting to see the light at the end of the tunnel right now.”

Casey Carlson, president of Greater Santa Cruz Federation of Teachers, said a mid-March timeline does appear feasible in light of the recent vaccine availability.

In the county’s largest school district, Pajaro Valley Unified, Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez also struck an optimistic note in light of the vaccination news Wednesday night — though she did not go as far as to suggest a timeline.

Addressing trustees for the first time since her whirlwind firing and reinstatement two weeks earlier, Rodriguez reiterated the district’s stance that all teachers and staff should be vaccinated before a wider return to campus.

“We do believe that a path forward is clearer than it ever has been,” Rodriguez said.