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

A ‘baffling injustice’: PVUSD parents frustrated by plans for little classroom time this spring

Some Pajaro Valley Unified School District parents are growing increasingly concerned about the district’s comparatively slow path back to in-person learning this spring, as well as its plans for more limited time in classrooms.

Frustrated with her district’s slower return to classrooms, Rio Del Mar Elementary School parent Shanna Crigger says she is on the verge of moving her children to another school.

“The lack of classroom instruction is a baffling injustice that sets up our children for an achievement gap like none we’ve ever seen,” Crigger wrote to Pajaro Valley Unified School District trustees as part of this week’s school board meeting. “When you question PVUSD’s high school dropout rate and meager college acceptance rate years from now, please remember this failure in leadership that was supported at the highest levels.”

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Crigger isn’t alone in expressing frustration that the district has moved the slowest of any in Santa Cruz County to allow students to return to classrooms under a hybrid model. And, for now, PVUSD continues to have less in-person time planned this spring than any of its peers — with a baseline of 3 hours of weekly classroom time offered to all grades when its phased reopening starts next month.

Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez and other school officials have said this is the result of the district continuing to prioritize its remote learning program for the rest of the year. The district is offering in-person time as an addition, instead of a partial replacement, to remote learning. One benefit to that model, according to Rodriguez, is that students will be able to stay with the same teacher.

But some parents remain unconvinced. In-person time planned across Santa Cruz County districts this spring ranges from 3 to 15 hours per week, according to data compiled by the county Office of Education.

“One hour here and there is a joke,” Aptos High parent Angelina Rennell told trustees Wednesday. “Nothing less than 3-4 hours a day is acceptable, for transportation reasons, as well as getting back to a healthy routine.”

PVUSD parent Lisa Murphy, who said she has two sons in high school, called the current plans “unacceptable.”

“My 9th grade son is experiencing a mental health crisis due to not being able to attend school,” Murphy wrote to trustees. “You will lose a child to suicide before you lose them to COVID-19.”

Other parents have continued to express trepidation around a return. And PVUSD, like all California districts, is allowing families that wish to continue learning fully remote to do so.

Updated plans are already taking shape in many districts — PVUSD among them — to take advantage of recently eased classroom distancing guidelines to potentially expand in-person this spring.

PVUSD Superintendent Rodriguez on Wednesday joined her counterparts from across the county in announcing they are now “confident” in a full-time return to classrooms this fall, at least as long as COVID-19 transmission remains low.

And by merging cohorts into a single group where possible, the district is now hoping to double its weekly in-person instruction time this spring for many students — from 3 to 6 hours.

“We are implementing this new three-feet physical distancing guideline immediately and therefore the majority of our students have the opportunity to attend in-person instruction four days a week, Tuesday through Friday this spring,” Rodriguez said in a letter to families Wednesday, announcing that anticipated change. Families were told to expect more information from their schools later this week.

Pajaro Valley Unified is the largest in Santa Cruz County, accounting for nearly half of all public school students with an enrollment of about 20,000.