Courtesy of San Benito High School Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum:
Dear San Benito High School Parents, Students and Community:
I hope you are well as we approach the final two weeks of the Spring semester in what has been an unprecedented and unpredictable time for all of us. For this week’s message, I wanted to update you on what we know as of the health crisis that has also become a fiscal crisis for California, and education in particular. My intention is to share with you what we know, what we do not know and how and when we will make decisions going forward.
What We Know Our goal is to promote and protect student health and safety while working to minimize the risk for everyone: students, staff, faculty, as well as our neighbors and families.
- Our Fall Semester is scheduled to start on August 13, and we are planning for that accordingly, though we do not know what the public health status of our community or state will be at the end of the Summer. However, we are hopeful that we will be in Stage 3 of Governor Gavin Newsom’s plan by then and that we can have students and staff return to campus for in-person learning.
- We continue to plan based on the latest information from local and state officials and pledge to remain transparent with those plans going forward.
- We will provide regular updates as we have substantive information to share.
- We will continue to collaborate and plan for continuity with guidance from the County Office of Education and local educational leaders.
- Given the evolving nature of the pandemic, San Benito High School will continue to evaluate the situation and provide definitive information on the status of our Fall semester when it has been determined.
School Reopening Guidelines On May 19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released updated guidelines for reopening and resuming schools and child care facilities during the coronavirus pandemic. The CDC recognizes that schools will determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials to the extent possible, whether and how to implement these considerations while meeting their local needs. The guidelines also provide a three-step approach on scaling up operations, promoting health hygiene practices and intense cleaning, training on social distancing protocols, and establishing a plan in the event someone becomes sick and/or schools require closing.
Planning Scenarios (In-Person/Hybrid/Distance Learning) While we remain optimistic that we can return to our traditional, in-person learning offerings in the Fall, we are considering scenarios that range from the traditional approach, through a hybrid learning environment (a mix of in-person and online instruction) to a return to the distance learning model we have used this school year.
Minimizing Risk SBHS is developing a detailed plan that will be consistent with the governor’s plan, guidelines from the California Department of Education, and advice from the San Benito County Health Department. The “new normal” in California schools this coming year, according to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, will likely include masks, daily school sanitation and smaller class sizes to maintain six feet of distance between students and staff. To help mitigate risk, the options may include CDC recommendations, such as:
- Placing desks at least six feet apart
- Staggering student arrival times
- Distributing face coverings for staff
- Leaving every other row in a bus empty to provide enough distance
- Opening windows and doors to help air circulate
- Limiting gatherings
Physical distancing, PPE (personal protective equipment), sanitation and other practices are part of any considerations when planning for instructional delivery in the Fall semester. Once again, as we continue to monitor this fluid situation, the recommendations listed above may change over time. All of these safety accommodations will require additional funding, Thurmond said this week. What’s more, he noted that California would not mandate when schools would open “and that the state Education Department was working with public health officials, school leaders and workplace safety experts to compile guidelines for how to do so safely,” according to the Los Angele Times.
Fiscal Impacts Reflecting California’s pandemic-induced $54 billion budget deficit, Gov. Newsom presented his May Revision on May 14, featuring a blend of proposals aimed at mitigating the dire financial straits of the state’s K-12 schools, primarily through funding cuts. Overall, the Governor’s budget presentation reflected the state’s unexpected, rapid and dramatic departure from a strong financial footing. What impact for San Benito High School District and schools around the state remains to be seen, but we are already planning to work with significantly less funding than had been pledged prior to the pandemic. COVID-19 already was a health crisis, but it is now also a true fiscal crisis for public schools throughout California. The proposed cuts from the state would have drastic impacts on our operations, so we are steadfastly creating budgetary plans that incorporate significantly less funding, while maximizing progress toward district goals. We need answers to the complex challenges involved in reopening our campus and need additional funding to meet these challenges.
Next Steps I truly wish I could provide a more definitive plan for the Fall semester at this point in the year, but the truth is no one can predict what we will face over the next three months. I continue to be humbled by the spirit of togetherness and cooperation our community has displayed during the school closure. You have my pledge that we will hope for the best and plan for any contingencies that may be called for as we wrap up an unprecedented school year and look forward to a return to normalcy. Through it all, I am reminded that despite the challenges we face, our collective spirit remains Baler Strong, and it’s always a great day to be a Baler!
San Benito High School District Superintendent Dr. Shawn Tennenbaum