NC Christian School Administrator Hutchinson
says it can be done at larger schools

ATASCADERO — North County Christian School Principal-Administrator Ken Hutchinson is confident public schools can bring students back into classrooms for face-to-face learning.

“Obviously, there will be challenges the public schools, the bigger schools will have that we don’t have, but I think it is very much doable,” Hutchinson said. “I think you have to be creative.”

All schools in San Luis Obispo County opened the 2020-21 school year in distance learning after landing on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list and subsequently placed in the most restrictive tier of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Schools could apply for an in-person waiver for elementary grades, K-5.

Private schools in SLO County, such as North County Christian in Atascadero, took advantage of the waiver and started the 2020-21 school year mostly on time.

“It has worked very well,” said Hutchinson, adding that North County Christian School opened with in-person learning on Aug. 26 and on Oct. 12 brought its middle school students onto campus for in-person instruction due to the county being out of the most restrictive tier for the required two weeks. North County Christian opted not to have high school students this year.

Schools can go to in-person instruction as long as they adhere to county, state and CDC guidance for reopening schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the schools have opted for hybrid plans, especially middle and high school grades, and are bringing students back in phases.

Early in October, Atascadero, Paso Robles and Templeton school districts submitted hybrid learning plans and elementary waiver applications to their boards for approval and then to SLO County Public Health for review.

Hybrid learning combines face-to-face instruction with online learning. In the context of coronavirus school reopenings, a hybrid model reduces the number of students on campus by moving some course delivery online.

Hutchinson said North County Christian School considered the hybrid model, but with only 39 elementary students, in-person instruction was logistically doable. The school has nine middle school students. Enrollment is close to past years.

Each school day begins with staff and students receiving a health check. The same goes for visitors. Parents wait in the parking lot during their student’s health check and leave when they receive the all-clear from staff.

“We ask the questions that are required of us and we take their temperatures,” Hutchinson said, adding that for him, the health check is the most critical piece.

“I would say all of the guidelines that are there and the most valuable one, and I think one regardless of a pandemic or not, are the health checks,” he said. “One of the concerns is parents sending students to school who are sick and if you could solve that problem, and this helps with that, health checks, do a lot with that, I think that would help a lot in the long run.”

Everyone who steps on campus is required to wear a face mask.

“We wondered how the students would handle the face coverings, and generally, I think they have handled them very well,” Hutchinson said. “If I had to rate it, I’d say they have handled it better than the staff some days.”

Following the health check, students are immediately separated into, the term nowadays is cohorts, which is where they stay for the rest of the day.

North County Christian has four cohorts because it combined some of its classes — K-1, 2-3, 4-5 and then middle school. Each cohort is no larger than 14 students with no more than two staff, generally only one teacher, Hutchinson.

White dots were painted on the grounds — outside of classrooms and leading up to the office, for example — six feet apart to serve as social distancing reminders.

North County Christian School requires anyone who comes on campus to wear a face covering and take part in a health screening that includes a temperature check. North County Christian School Principal-Administrator Ken Hutchinson says this is key to keeping COVID-19 off of the campus.

Once inside their classroom, the students have assigned seats that are more than six feet apart. Each student has their own set of classroom supplies.

“The guideline, six feet is the number we hear, but the other part of that is as much as possible,” Hutchinson said. “We put a lot of energy into distancing within the classroom.”

There are procedures for how the students line up to go outside to not just go out into a big clump of students. They are organized as well as when they come inside.

There is lots of hand sanitizing and hand washing. Classrooms and high-touch areas are sanitized throughout the day and at day’s end.

Hutchinson said the COVID-19 changes do not interfere with the education part of the school at all. It’s just become part of classroom procedures for students.

“It was almost as though they (students) were just happy to be back — tell us what we need to do so that we can do it to be here — that seemed to be their attitude in the beginning and they continue to have. It’s worked very well,” Hutchinson said.

At the end of the school day, parents wait in the parking lot for the students to come to them.

Preparing for in-person instruction within the guidelines took much planning, and it was essential to include all of the staff, Hutchinson said.

“You had to be on the same page and understand how things work,” Hutchinson said. “And certainly, the second day of school was better than the first day of school. We did some things better and learned some things.”

For more information on North County Christian School, visit online www.educatingforeternity.org.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles