April is the newest target return, but will it happen at all?


The new target return date was announced for secondary schools to return in April, after the third semester. Infographic by: Greta Pankratz

Greta Pankratz

Rising COVID-19 cases present an uncertain future for secondary schools.

Beginning on Jan. 5 at 4 p.m., the Ventura Unified School District board meeting brought the approximate 600 viewers an update on Ventura county’s purple status and how it is going to affect the short-lived hopes for a target hybrid return on Jan. 26. Many concerns regarding special education students, a petition signed by elementary schoolers and the “severely compromised” nutrition services were addressed as the concerns of exposure among staff have grown. Not only are staff members opting to keep a distance, but a number of students–particularly elementary–have taken this time to switch to new school systems or even moving districts. 

The rising COVID-19 numbers were presented as the time came to tackle the concerns for the secondary school system, with which the new target date, April 12, was presented. April 12 is after the end of the third quarter, as to keep in mind the teachers’ curriculums and the disruption this kind of switch could bring nearing the end of a quarter. While it had been presented as the projected return for secondary schools, it was made clear by VUSD superintendent Roger Rice that this is only a best-case scenario situation. 

April 12 can only be the return date for hybrid learning if our numbers fall at a progressive rate and if we can calm our numbers by March. Not only this, but as VUSD board member Velma Lomax brought to attention, spring break could also play into stalling our numbers from reaching the criteria necessary to remain in the red zone for at least two weeks prior to opening.

 Ventura County is currently in the purple (widespread) tier. Purple is the highest above red (substantial), orange (moderate) and lastly yellow (minimal). In order to reach the red tier, we must have four to seven new cases per 100 thousand people and a five to eight percent positivity rate. Reaching this red zone for that amount of time is required for VUSD secondary schools to legally allow students to participate in hybrid learning. 

There is noticeably a lot of improvement that must start happening soon if we want April to work out, but what if it doesn’t? Well, Rice brought up, “If we are still seeing numbers like they are currently within those few weeks leading up to April 12, the return may not be possible.” Consequently, an in-person return to the 2020-21 school year may not be able to happen at all. While it was made clear by the VUSD board that they are working hard to please the staff, students and families, a large component in caring for these groups is keeping them safe. And to do so, the school year for the class of 2021 may have to remain online. This, like Lomax made clear, will not happen without strong efforts from the board to provide the most they can.

The Ventura Unified School District Board of Education ran the meeting where they presented information, gave updates, and addressed community concerns. Infographic by: Greta Pankratz

Senior Sofia Mastroianni was not too taken aback by this news. She said, “I feel unsurprised about the push back. It was fully expected to me because of how we as a country, state, and city handled the virus as a whole. Especially with how divided things have been.”

When asked if she would ever partake in the hybrid system, Mastroianni said, “I took a course this semester that was hybrid. We only met up for certain projects we had to do. I liked it because I enjoy online school but it was still nice to see people and the teacher. However, I would not choose to go back to a hybrid for numerous reasons including health and safety, my job and my personal preference of online school.” Mastroianni proceeded to look forward to future endeavors, and said, “I am sad about some aspects of senior year, but I mostly am making it memorable by focusing on the excitement of college and spending these last few months with my best friends!”

Junior Ximena Martinez was not completely expecting the new target date. She said, “I’m honestly very shocked it was pushed back until then but I think it’s the right thing to do. There’s been a huge spike in cases in VC and I wouldn’t want those who do opt for hybrid learning to get sick.” When asked if she would return, Martinez said, “I think I would only go back to school if we were in the orange zone and definitely if we were in yellow. A lot of people who I’m close to are high risk and I wouldn’t want to put them in danger when I can learn from home.” 

Commenting on the loss of her junior year experience, Martinez said, “I’m a little worried that if the spread of the virus isn’t controlled here in Ventura that I won’t get amazing junior year memories, but I don’t want to be pessimistic about it. Hopefully, I can have a normal or semi-normal senior year and that would be enough for me. Plus, with the classes I’m taking, doing school work from home feels like an amazing privilege because I have more control over how I get my work done. I don’t think there’s much VUSD can do in that respect. I just hope the teachers and staff are safe.” 

While the news of the push to April 12, and the potentially fully online school year is still very fresh, most students, parents, staff and people around the country have been hit with their fair share of disappointment. At this point, our county is moving day by day, and new updates, along with new normals, are changing by the hour. In order for the county to reach this goal by April, the school board and the students will have to take on this year’s challenges and work together to climb closer to normalcy.

**Story edited for clarity 1/6/21 12:03 PM