First grade teacher Lacie Wall welcomed students back to her classroom at Gault Elementary.
First grade teacher Lacie Wall welcomes students back to her classroom at Gault Elementary on Monday, March 22, for the first time in over a year.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

In-person learning time varying greatly countywide. How does your school district stack up?

Santa Cruz County students returning to classrooms under hybrid learning models can expect to spend between 3 and 15 hours learning in person each week — depending on their grade level, and their school district. A look at every district, along with an expanded school reopening calendar.

Hybrid learning — a mixture between remote and in-person — is quickly rolling out across each of Santa Cruz County’s 10 public school districts. But the time students can expect to spend in the classroom each week varies significantly, data compiled by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education shows.

In tiny Mountain Elementary School District, kindergarteners are already back in their classrooms for 15 hours a week — more than any other local district. On the other end of the spectrum is Pajaro Valley Unified School District, where kindergarteners are set to spend 3 hours in person per week when classrooms reopen April 5.

As Santa Cruz County inches out of the pandemic, Lookout is chronicling the changes in our lives and the accomplishments of everyday people. “People in the Pandemic” is one of eight Lookout initiatives documenting all aspects of life amid COVID. For more, go to our COVID 2021 section, and sign up for COVID Text Alerts and our COVID PM newsletter here.

Secondary school schedules also contain significant variation. On the high end, middle and high schoolers in Santa Cruz City Schools can expect to spend 9 hours learning in person each week. As with primary schools, PVUSD is planning for the least in-person time at 3 weekly hours.

Families that opt to keep their children learning fully remote can do so across all districts. And in-person schedules remain a moving target as conditions, and state and federal guidelines, continue to change.

In PVUSD, for instance, Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez confirmed Monday the district is developing a plan to allow many students to double their time in-person from 3 to 6 hours by taking advantage of new distancing guidelines put out Friday by the California Department of Public Health.

Other districts are also taking a close look at those new guidelines, according to county Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah.

District-by-district look

The following graphics show the number of hours school districts are spending on in-person instruction each week. You can scan by grade level using either the left or right arrows (or the down arrow) under “In-person hours per week.”

The chart beneath the bar graph displays the same data in a more numeric way. The bar at the bottom enables you to move left or right, or, if on a phone, you can scroll using your finger.

Graphics not displaying properly? Click here to view in a separate window.

Why so much variation?

A number of factors are contributing to the variations in time spent in-person under districts’ models, according to Sabbah. Among them, negotiation with employee unions, scheduling conflicts with higher-need small cohorts already learning in person, and the range of views on the safety of a wider school reopening among families.

One recently formed parent group is calling on districts to firm up their plans for full-time in-person schooling in the 2021-22 academic year. Sabbah said he hears both from parents in that camp, as well as from parents who view a wider reopening as too risky.

“The only thing I would say is work with your local district to continue advocating for what you think is in the best interest of your child,” he said.

Other districts are prioritizing continuity for their distance learning program through the end of the year.

“Hybrid is a big shift, and it’s a challenge for teachers to teach in hybrid, so I know that [PVUSD] has taken the path of keeping the distance learning in the morning and adding the in-person time in the afternoon,” Sabbah said. “That’s a very different model than another district saying we want to maximize the amount of in-person instruction time.”

Full reopening schedule

The following calendar shows what grade levels in individual school districts are reopening on particular dates throughout Santa Cruz County. Use the arrows to flip through the calendar, and click on the name of the district to learn more about reopening details.

MORE FROM LOOKOUT: Lookout’s newsletters — distributed every weekday morning and afternoon — keep you up to speed on all the latest headlines in Santa Cruz County and beyond. Click here to sign up for free.