Mission Hill Middle School in Santa Cruz exterior.
Mission Hill Middle School in Santa Cruz — and other public middle and high schools in Santa Cruz County — could soon see students back on campus.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

‘Singing the same tune’: Return plans for middle and high schools quickly taking shape in Santa Cruz County

Five of six districts with secondary schools are gearing up to begin hybrid in-person and remote instruction in March and April — so long as the county moves to the red tier of California’s reopening framework, as expected. The sixth is strongly considering accelerating secondary reopening plans.

Middle and high schools across most of Santa Cruz County are gearing up to return to in-person instruction this spring, with plans for hybrid learning quickly taking shape amid a week that has buoyed optimism among education officials.

At least five of the six public districts with secondary schools have plans to begin in-person and remote learning for their middle and high schools by the end of April, so long as the county progresses to the red tier of California’s reopening framework.

Their plans come as a series of favorable conditions that have taken shape this week, both locally and statewide:

• COVID-19 case counts are continuing to stay low in Santa Cruz County, where progression to the less-restrictive red tier is widely expected next week. The county is currently in the purple tier, under which secondary schools are barred from reopening to in-person instruction.

• On Wednesday, the county marked a major milestone as kindergarteners returned to classrooms at Scotts Valley Unified, leading off a wave of elementary school reopenings under a hybrid model.

• Another milestone is days away: All K-12 educators in Santa Cruz County — a group of about 5,000 — are set to have been offered their first vaccination dose by Sunday, according to local education and health officials.

• And after brokering a deal with Gov. Gavin Newsom, state lawmakers passed a bill Thursday tying $2 billion in funding to speed up the return to some in-person school starting in April. Newsom is expected to sign the legislation, SB 86, on Friday. School officials are expected to learn how much financial aid they’ll get under that plan within the next two weeks.

“We’re now in a place where there’s movement, and people are excited about it,” said Faris Sabbah, Santa Cruz County’s Superintendent of Schools. “And I think that we’re working more closely together with our parents and our community and our pediatricians, and we’re all kind of singing the same tune.”

Santa Cruz City Schools is targeting April 5 to begin hybrid instruction for its middle and high school students, according to a letter sent to families Wednesday. Scotts Valley Unified is hoping to return its secondary students to classrooms even sooner, before the end of March.

“Both schools will be opening for full hybrid by the end of March, and they are working on what that exact schedule looks like,” said Scotts Valley Unified Superintendent Tanya Krause.


COVID K-12, Lookout’s overview of COVID-19’s impact on education, is among eight Lookout initiatives documenting all aspects of the pandemic this year. For more, go to our COVID 2021 section, sign up for COVID Text Alerts and our COVID PM newsletter here, and leave feedback and ask questions at the end of this story.

San Lorenzo Valley Unified plans to begin hybrid learning at its middle and high school on April 20 and 27, according to a timeline provided by the district’s superintendent. Soquel Union Elementary and Live Oak School District plan to debut their hybrid models at their respective middle schools by mid-April.

That leaves Pajaro Valley Unified. The largest district in the county with nearly half of all public school students, PVUSD encompasses a wide area that has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

PVUSD had moved slower to reopen its elementary classrooms than its smaller neighboring districts. As conditions improve, PVUSD is now moving more quickly and plans to have some in-person learning across elementary grades by April 12, according to district Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez.

Plans for its secondary schools are also in the works, though the timeline is not yet clear.

“PVUSD is considering accelerating the return to in person instruction for secondary students as the case rates continue to decline,” Rodriguez said via email. “Once Santa Cruz County has entered into the red tier, an accelerated timeline will be provided to families and the community.”