San Carlos School District’s return to school leaves many conflicted

The+San+Carlos+School+District+brought+their+transitional+kindergartners%2C+kindergartners%2C+and+first+graders+back+to+a+hybrid+form+of+in-person+learning+on+Feb.+22.

Iza Habur/https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/08/418281/how-reopen-schools-safely-during-covid-19-according-pediatricians/CC-BY

The San Carlos School District brought their transitional kindergartners, kindergartners, and first graders back to a hybrid form of in-person learning on Feb. 22.

After COVID-19 forced the San Carlos School District (SCSD) to transition to distance learning last March, the district has brought students back to in-person learning last Monday for the first time in nearly a year.

Plans in November of 2020 to return to in-person learning were scrapped due to a surge in cases. On Feb. 22, the SCSD started in-person school for first graders and kindergartners. With California’s COVID-19 cases decreasing and the vaccines being administered to teachers, the school district has decided to open for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. Many people in the community see distance learning as a hindrance to the education of children and see returning to in-person instruction as beneficial overall.

Carlmont sophomore, Aldo Aguirre, said, “I think that many people have not learned as much during distance learning than [they would have in] in-person learning. It’s pretty hard to focus during class when it’s online. I think in-person learning will make it better, especially for the younger students.”

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Mindy Shelton, the Arroyo Upper Elementary School principal, has seen the loss of education firsthand. 

“Our youngest learners are the ones who are struggling the most over zoom without that kind of interaction with their teachers. It’s hard to be able to read and be able to follow directions and do things,” Shelton said.

To Neil Layton, the president of the San Carlos school board, opening safely is a number one priority. He stresses his district’s decision to reintroduce in-person learning based on experts’ recommendations.

“I think the priority at the state level and the priority at the federal level is getting vaccinated, which shows their importance in what we’re doing, but part of me always has to listen to the same experts. They’re telling you that vaccinations are important to get an extra layer, but we can still do this safely despite vaccinations. We’re trying to listen to all the experts, weigh it, and go from there,” Layton said.

In order to prepare the students, the district, including Brittan Acres Elementary School, hosted orientation week with small groups of kids to teach them the protocols for the return to school. Students were taught, in small groups over the span of the week, to properly wash their hands, wear a mask, and social distance. According to the kindergarten teachers at Brittan Acres, their students have designated seating and have assigned markers and toys.

Laurie Mecchi, a kindergarten teacher at Brittan Acres, said, “The kids need to learn how to [follow the protocols] so having less kids at once [during orientation week], was an advantage because of the time factor. It takes time to wash hands, and it takes time to teach kids to do things in a different way than they’re used to.”

Pamela Edgington, another one of the kindergarten teachers at Brittan Acres, is assuming more risk than Mecchi. At home, she is a caregiver for her elderly mother and was initially concerned about returning to in-person instruction because of this. 

It was more important for me to have [my at-risk mother] get the vaccine so I could feel comfortable exposing myself. If my mom hadn’t been vaccinated, my elderly mom, who has needs, I would not have felt comfortable whatsoever coming into the classroom.”

— Pamela Edgington

While Edgington’s mother got vaccinated and Edgington returned to school, she, along with many other teachers throughout the district, has not yet received any vaccination doses.

“I would have chosen to come back after I had both vaccine doses and we were in orange [tier],” Edgington said. “I’m here, and I don’t have any vaccines, I’m 54, and I have underlying conditions as well. So it is a risk.”

For students who wish to stay at home due to safety concerns, there is a distance learning alternative. However, teachers like Edgington are not given the same option. The government program that gave them paid leave earlier this year has expired, and although they can decide to stay home for safety reasons, the school cannot compensate them. 

Another major concern many teachers had was the fact that they were sent back to in-person learning while still in the purple tier without being fully vaccinated against the virus.  

“We would be more comfortable fully vaccinated and the numbers being lower. Having gone back to the purple tier, we were very uncomfortable. The purple tier indicates widespread cases,” Mecchi said.

Many throughout the community are conflicted about the return to school and must consider a number of factors when it comes to the complicated issue of balancing personal safety, the desires of the community, and the education of children.

“We [as teachers]  have mixed feelings about it. We love being back because we love teaching kids in person. But we are a little bit hesitant,” Mecchi said.

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