Transitional kindergarteners and kindergarteners return for in-person instruction in hybrid plan

PASO ROBLES — Heather Gallaher walked her son to the entrance of Pat Butler Elementary, hugged him, and watched proudly as he walked down the sidewalk to his kindergarten classroom.

“He did it all by himself,” Gallaher remarked to parents and school staff gathered at the entrance. Tuesday morning, Nov. 3, was the first day of hybrid instruction for the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District’s youngest students — transitional kindergarten and kindergarten.

“He looks happy. He’s in there. No meltdown. So, mommy is happy,” Gallaher said. “It’s a big moment, especially with everything going on. It’s kind of nerve-racking, but here we are.”

The hybrid model brings half of the students on campus for either morning or afternoon in-person instruction Tuesday through Friday, with Monday being distance learning.

The transition from full distance learning for PRJUSD elementary-aged students will happen in stages. TK-K will be followed by first and second grades on Nov. 16 and third through fifth grades on Nov. 30.

Middle and high school students will start the second half of the school year in hybrid after the winter break on Jan. 5.

Parents and or guardians had the choice of moving to hybrid or remaining in distance learning, independent study or homeschool.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all schools in San Luis Obispo County opened the 2020-21 school year in distance learning after landing on the state’s monitoring list and being subsequently placed in the most restrictive tier of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

Parents drop their kindergarten students off at Pat Butler Elementary on Nov. 3, the first day of in-person instruction in the hybrid model for the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District. Photo by Brian Williams

San Luis Obispo County moved into Tier 2 of the Blueprint on Sept. 22. According to the Blueprint, once a county had been out of Tier 1 for two weeks, schools within that county can begin moving to modified in-person instruction.

Oct. 6 marked two weeks out of Tier 1 for SLO County and that same day, Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein announced SLO County schools could begin submitting their plans for review.

PRJUSD Superintendent Curt Dubost greeted parents and students Tuesday morning at Pat Butler.

“To start the first step of having the kids come back today with the littlest ones and have some sense of normalcy come back is really, really neat,” Dubost said. “I want to compliment our teachers on how hard they’ve worked and all of the staff to make this come together and compliment the parents as well on their patience. I know it’s been a long hard pull. Everybody has been trying to find that balance.”

The first step includes masks for everyone while on campus. Parents of students conduct health checks before coming to school. Staff have daily health checks and are being tested for COVID-19. Everyones’ temperature is taken when they get to school — students and staff.

Hand washing and sanitizing occur throughout the day for staff and students are just some of the safety protocols in place at all six PRJUSD elementary schools.

Classrooms were limited to 14 students. Each student sat at an assigned desk and had their own set of classroom supplies.

“Not where we want to be. We want to be with all of the kids back full-time,” Dubost said. “It’s the first step back and we are doing it in stages to make sure that we get it right and that we breed confidence. The most important thing that we want to do is among our staff, community, students, absolutely generate confidence that we’ve got this solved, it’s safe to come back, you can relax and start to learn again, and enjoy being with your friends.”

Gallaher and other parents appeared to be happy students were physically back at school and pleased with what the schools were doing to make it happen.

“I’m hoping it goes OK. There is no way to know,” Gallaher said. “They are doing all of their protections and we are doing the best that we can as parents. Everyone is doing their best, and that is all we can do.”

Pat Butler Elementary Principal Damien Capalare, left, speaks with a parent on Nov. 3, the first day of in-person instruction at the school, as Paso Robles Joint Unified School District Superintendent Curt Dubost looks on. Photo by Brian Williams
Getting through this together, Paso Robles