Based in Watsonville, Pajaro Valley Unified School District is the largest in Santa Cruz County.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

PVUSD targets April to get youngest students back in schools, plans to limit in-person time to 1.5 hours

Pajaro Valley Unified School District trustees approved a plan to return its youngest students to classrooms under a hybrid model starting April 5 — but students will spend far less time in person than in other districts.

Pajaro Valley Unified School District is waiting until April to reopen schools to its youngest students, according to a plan approved late Wednesday night by trustees.

And once back in classrooms, students will be limited to 1.5 hours of in-person learning each day for two days out of the week — less than half the in-person time proposed by some nearby districts.


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The reopening plan was approved by the PVUSD Board of Trustee in a 6-0 vote, with trustee Georgia Acosta not present.

PVUSD is targeting April 5, after its spring break, to return students in first grade and below to classrooms under a hybrid in-person and remote learning model. Second and third graders would return to schools later on April 19, while some older students could follow May 1.

As in other districts, fully remote learning will continue to be available to all who request it.

The timeline is weeks later than many other Santa Cruz County districts, a difference that PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez attributed to a more cautious approach to reopening in light of the higher COVID-19 case rates in the Pajaro Valley. Residents of Watsonville, where PVUSD is based, account for 52% of confirmed cases in the county, despite making up just 19% of the population.

PVUSD’s plans also depend on Santa Cruz County moving into the less restrictive red tier under the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework.

“For us, getting ourselves into red is important because of the percentage of those cases that are within our school district boundaries,” Rodriguez said.

COVID-19 case rates have decreased drastically in recent weeks and progression to the red tier appears within reach — but for now, Santa Cruz County is still in the more restrictive purple tier.

Some met the plan to cap students’ time in-person at 1.5 hours with skepticism.

Nearby, Santa Cruz City Schools is planning to have its students in classrooms for more than twice as long — ranging from 3.5 hours to 5 hours at a time, based on grade level — as it reopens elementary grades in March.

“I was hoping that our in-person schedule would be similar to our neighboring school districts,” said Caitlin Johnson, a visual and performing arts teacher at Alianza Charter, summarizing lengthier schedules. “Anything less than that is hardly worth doing. Our students will spend more time on the bus and transitioning into and out of school than in class learning.”

Trustee Kim De Serpa also expressed a concern, asking Rodriguez whether the schedule could be extended.

“To bring students in for an hour and a half — that’s really rough on families,” De Serpa said.

Rodriguez responded that a pilot program at six different schools has shown the shorter time period to be effective, adding that the schedule helps support a continued focus on effective distance learning.

“What we’re doing is we’re maintaining distance learning, then we’re adding on the additional time,” Rodriguez said. “We’re seeing that it’s having a big impact on students, just being able to get back on campus.”

A number of school districts are targeting the week of March 15 to start phased returns to in-person schooling for their...

Several other commenters said they continue to harbor concern about the safety of reopening schools this spring, even in such a limited fashion.

“I want my children, and my students, back in classrooms as quickly as possible, but not when there is still such a risk to their health,” said Kerry Gil, a teacher at Aptos Junior High and the parent of two elementary students.

The district’s reopening plans are also contingent on vaccines availability to all teachers and staff — a condition set to be met by Sunday. “We are doing the final group this weekend,” Rodriguez said, adding that she, too, plans to receive her first jab with the final group.

Vaccination is not mandatory, and Rodriguez said in an email this week that about 20% of the district’s teachers have opted out.

PVUSD stretches from Northern Monterey County in the south to Aptos in the north. The largest district in Santa Cruz County, it had an enrollment of nearly 20,000 students as of last year.