Pomolita Middle School seventh-grader Lillianne Thies bravely called in to make a public comment at the October 8, 2020, Ukiah Unified School Board Meeting. She wanted to let us know how important going to school in-person is to her and her friends. “I feel that going to school is important because we need to socialize with our peers,” she said. “... In the mornings I feel it’s very hard to get motivated and it’s hard to find the perfect learning environment.”
Lillianne’s words and confidence make me very proud of her and all of our wonderful, resilient students, but it breaks my heart at the same time. I know everyone wants to get back to school in-person. So do I. Many families and community members have questions about how and when we can get kids back in school, so I want to explain a little bit about the circumstances and process that will allow us to start in-person learning.
Our goal is to transition to an in-person model as soon as the health conditions allow it. The California Department of Public Health and our local Public Health Officer guide our decisions. In August of 2020, Governor Newsom unveiled the Blueprint for a Safer Economy (https://covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy/), which assigns counties to four different tiers based on disease transmission and positive test rates. Mendocino county is in the most restrictive Widespread (purple) tier.
School districts within counties assigned to the purple tier cannot resume any in-person learning until they move into the Substantial (red) tier for two consecutive weeks. Purple tier counties move to the red tier when there are seven or fewer average new daily cases per 100,000 residents, and average positive test rates are 8% or less for two consecutive weeks. Schools may reopen for in-person instruction once their county has been in the red tier for at least two weeks.
For our Ukiah Unified schools, this means we are a minimum of 28 days away from any in-person model once our county-wide data supports a movement to the red tier: 7 or fewer positive COVID cases in the 7-day average. Mendocino county will need to have two weeks below the threshold numbers to move to the red tier, and then another two weeks of maintaining those numbers before we are allowed to start an in-person learning model.
Why do we want to go back? According to the CDC, in-person school is second only to home for influencing the health and well-being of our kids. The in-person school environment supports the development of social-emotional skills while creating a safe environment for learning. When kids are at school in-person, we can address other important facets of well-being like their nutritional and physical activity needs. When kids are in school they have easier access to mental health and social services and school counselors are there to spot any signs of trauma.
Even with all of the challenges we are dealing with right now, our Pomolita seventh-grader Lillianne Thies has a positive attitude and also has good things to report. She is really grateful for her teachers and she enjoys still being able to see people on the camera and hear their voices.
The good news is that we control our future and it’s up to us to help get Lillianne and all of our students back to school in-person. Our actions make a difference in getting us to a different tier. Please continue to do your part in reducing the cases of COVID in our county by supporting the three Ws: wearing a mask, watching your physical distance from others, and washing your hands.