Class Time

Second-grader Clarissa Rivera gets a Covid-19 test at MPUSD’s Cabrillo Family Resource Center in Seaside on Monday, Jan. 10.

The surge of Covid-19 coincided with winter break for Monterey County schools. In an effort to minimize the spread, local districts distributed thousands of test kits before and after winter break.

So far, Monterey County’s K-12 schools have been able to stay open in person, but to continue to do so will rely on ongoing testing. Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, for example, plans to test students and staff once a week for at least the next six weeks, pending the availability of rapid test kits, which are increasingly difficult to find (see story, p. 15). “Our job is to ensure that our campuses remain safe for students and staff,” MPUSD Superintendent PK Diffenbaugh says.

MPUSD administered over 800 tests on Jan. 3-4 at the Cabrillo Family Resource Center before classes resumed; of those, 92 people – including 44 students – tested positive.

Salinas City Elementary School District distributed about 9,000 voluntary test kits before the holidays; so far, the district recorded 6,170 results, and 206 people (including staff and students) tested positive.

These figures are lower than the average test positivity rate for Monterey County, which is 16.3 percent as of Jan. 11, but represent only partial results.

Even with testing protocols in place, attendance is lower than normal for this time of year, say SCESD Superintendent Rebeca Andrade and MPUSD’s Diffenbaugh. On Jan. 10, the first day back from winter break, SCESD reported 1,016 absences out of 8,581 students, or 12 percent.

The absences are not all related to Covid; Andrade says it’s common to register lower attendance after winter break because many students and their families travel. But the virus is a major impact: As of Jan. 11, SCESD reports 544 students are out due to a positive test or close contact, and 81 staff members.

Parents are taking different approaches when it comes to sending their kids back to school – some who are able to provide child care are keeping their kids home, waiting for the Covid surge to slow down.

Robin Pelc, a parent of a kindergartener and fourth-grader at Forest Grove Elementary in Pacific Grove, says she was anxious about sending her kids back to school: “We are at case rates that are so high and growing so fast.” Despite the whole family being vaccinated, Pelc opted to keep them home for a few days; she called in and said they were sick.

Then she sent them back to school because independent study – a study guide and tutoring – has a long waiting list, and Pelc was preparing to go back to work after the winter holiday.

Meanwhile, there’s growing interest in remote learning. SCESD’s Virtual Academy, which started in the 2021-2022 school year, is booming. The district expected about 150 students to enroll; the program now has over 300 students, and a waiting list. Andrade says if demand continues they may increase the number of classes offered next year.

For now, students who are absent can get homework packages and online tutoring. That’s a system that could work short-term when the number of absent students is relatively low, but is not sustainable. “It’s a lot harder to implement.” Diffenbaugh says.

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