By: NOLAN PAGE
As of the ninth of March, Solano county entered the red tier, allowing for the opening of schools, so during a special meeting on Wednesday March 10, the Benicia School Board voted for schools to open up in person learning in a hybrid schedule. Kindergarten, first and second grade will open on March 29 and third through twelfth grade will return on April 12, the first school day after spring break. The meeting consisted of public comments, a motion to approve the plan for the in school return, and a motion to confirm the dates.
All public comments were from parents or adult residents and the vast majority were critical of the plan, arguing that the school board should have stuck to the plan it voted on back in January, before California had a vaccine distribution plan, to have a unified opening on March 22. Some went as far as to say that the schools should never have been closed at all, criticizing the system of distance learning that they called ineffective. Others voiced concerns that there would not be enough space in each grade level for all the students or that on the hybrid schedule students would still not be spending enough time in the classroom. Many insisted that students be allowed to return as soon as possible, even saying that the school board was breaking the law by not putting the interests of the students first and calling the delay in opening a “human rights issue.” Unlike the rest, there was one commenter who asked that schools not reopen until vaccine distribution is further along.
The first motion that was passed was the confirmation of the plan on how the return to school will work. Students will be required to wear masks when in class and desks will be placed at six feet apart. The class sizes for in-person learning will be 50% of normal class with additions of up to two students per class for teachers who are willing to take them on. In addition to typical classes, special services classes will be provided to students either before or after normal school hours. According to a change in the CDC guidelines, if a person tests positive after attending school, the classrooms they occupied will no longer have to be left vacant for 72 hours after being disinfected as the time has been reduced to 24 hours. The middle school previously had a plan to have a group of students in the morning and one in the afternoon, but this has been changed to have a single unified group.
The second passing motion was the confirmation of the dates. The Principal of Joe Henderson, Melanie Buck explained that the delay between young elementary students and all others is to ensure that the young children, some of whom started their education in distance learning would be able to transition to physical school. The later return dates were the most hotly contested point considering the majority of public comments. Superintendent Charles Young endorsed the 3/29 and 4/12 dates for return. School board member Diane Ferucci however, supported the idea to stick to as close to the original return date by opening all schools on March 24, as teachers were required to be given an official notice two weeks before the scheduled openings. The other members did not agree to this, all voting against the idea of earlier openings with Mark Maselli citing the fact that the previous date had been set before they knew it was a possibility to get vaccinations for teachers and staff. Additionally, he brought up the point that it was only recently that the county made teachers elligible to get the vaccine and that the new dates line up better with the current timeframe of having teachers fully vaccinated by April 9. Ultimately, the board voted to approve these later dates.