The three largest school districts in Bakersfield account for most of the students in Kern County. None of them is considered an "open” district under state guidelines, so they currently are unable to open until local case rates begin to dip — or they have waivers from the state.
Here are some of the latest updates on reopening plans from these districts through interviews, board meetings and district documents.
KERN HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT
The Kern High School District is the largest district in the county, but it has little hope of bringing back any kind of students until Kern County COVID-19 case rates dip.
"We are unable to reopen until we are in the red tier. When we can reopen, we will bring back small cohorts as we did in the fall," said district spokesperson Erin Briscoe.
State guidance gives no extra leeway to the high schools opening if they hadn't already reopened. The rationale given for this is that elementary-aged students are least likely to spread or be seriously impacted by coronavirus in classrooms. But the research state guidance cites is stronger for elementary students than high school students.
That leaves most high school students in Kern County about where they were in October. The district is making plans now to once again bring small cohorts of vulnerable students on campus, Superintendent Bryon Schaefer announced at a board meeting this week.
The district brought these small cohorts of students onto campus Oct. 28 through about Dec. 2. It also succeeded in bringing back some general education students for career technical programs, but that won't be allowed until the county is in the red tier.
The district has an agreement with Kern Medical to vaccinate its staff once they have the green light from the Kern County Public Health Services Department, Schaefer said.
BAKERSFIELD CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT
The district presented the recommendations for hybrid learning from its district task forces at its Jan. 26 meeting. The task forces include teachers, administrators and district office staff, but they also heard the experiences of schools that have already returned for in-person learning, including a teacher in Rosedale. Deputy Superintendent Mark Luque said the goal was to bring a schedule to the upcoming meeting to finalize.
"There are no perfect models, but we're trying to provide and present the best recommendations in a perfect environment," Luque said.
For elementary students, the task force recommended a model where some students would come to school for in-person learning in the morning, while virtual learners would do their asynchronous learning. And then in the afternoon, the in-person group would return home and the teacher would directly instruct virtual students. There would be one day each week for asynchronous learning for both groups that would give teachers time for prepping their lessons.
Middle school is much trickier. The task force recommended a "homeroom" model. During their first period, students would receive live in-person instruction from their teacher. But then during the rest of the day students would receive distance learning from the rest of their teachers.
"That's a big ask of our teachers, but that's their recommendation in a very impossible environment if the ask is to bring kids back," Luque said. "Recognizing that the state has really focused their guidance on TK-6 and recognizing that the struggles of 7-12 are really quite immense."
Middle school class sizes tend to be very large, much too large to be COVID-safe. But Luque said that may be mitigated by the fact that the district would be unlikely to bus anyone but special education students initially and many middle school students rely on busing.
As with other districts, he said specific reopening dates depend on case rates and state guidance. In the meantime, the district has plans to become a vaccination provider at its own school wellness centers, and vaccines will be available to all employees who want them and meet the correct phase and tier.
PANAMA-BUENA VISTA UNION SCHOOL DISTRICT
The district submitted its COVID-19 plan to the state Feb. 1. This was the due date for districts hoping to get extra funding for reopening. Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Jennifer Irvin said the district hopes it can work on a plan that allows for bringing students back to school quickly.
"Our plans are in place; we'd love to work something out," she said.
The district already has a COVID-19 safety page, and the district plans to start regular surveillance testing on Feb. 16, which are both part of new state guidance. Regular surveillance testing means there will be weekly testing of asymptomatic individuals on campuses, and the district plans to do it Tuesday through Thursday. More details about this plan will be discussed at the upcoming board meeting.
While the district does not have a hard date, it is "actively" getting ready to bring back cohorts that had returned to campus in the fall, which is allowed under the purple tier.
Once educators are given the green light, the district plans to vaccinate its staff in two big Saturday clinics and then on Tuesdays and Thursdays at specified junior highs throughout the districts.