More than 60% of Santa Rosa City Schools families want some in-person teaching

This week, parents with children in the Santa Rosa City Schools district had to choose a form of instruction for the fall semester, and their preference is clear. A solid majority of families want at least some degree of on-site learning.

When they might attain that remains an open question.

Parents and legal guardians had to finalize their choice of three options by 5 p.m. Friday. About 45 minutes before that deadline, Santa Rosa City Schools Superintendent Diann Kitamura reported that 9,145 of the district’s approximately 15,500 households had made a selection. Of those, 5,613, or about 61%, had opted for the distance learning/hybrid model, which would allow students to return to campus two days a week whenever county health officials deem that safe.

One of those was the Jimenez-Lieu family, which will have two children, a fifth grader and a first grader, at Cesar Chavez Language Academy this fall. For them, it was a basic calculation of time and money. Marlene Jimenez-Lieu is an instructional assistant at SRCS. Her husband is a pharmacy technician. Both work outside the house, and their children are too young to stay home unattended.

“It came down to child care,” Jimenez-Lieu said. “And whether my husband and I can afford one of us staying home to be able to do the distance learning until December, or not. We can’t really afford child care five days a week. We discussed it, we tried to maneuver around it. But it didn’t add up.”

Kitamura said that 3,171 SRCS families had selected the distance option, a purely online form of instruction, while 361 had signed up for Learning House, a “virtual learning environment” that groups students from different schools in the district and focuses more on a project-based curriculum and lessons that weave together multiple subjects.

The total number of Learning House families was closer to 400, Kitamura said, but SRCS had to eliminate that option for grades 10 through 12 because not enough students in that age range had signed up to make the program viable.

Any family that did not select a mode of instruction will automatically be placed in the distance learning/hybrid column.

Asked whether the numbers surprised her, the superintendent said, “In this environment, I cannot even really venture expectations anymore. When I think we’re going to veer right, we veer left. And when I think we’ll veer left, we get to a big, fat stop sign. The pace with which superintendents must make decisions for students and their families right now, we’re almost placed in an impossible situation.”

Santa Rosa City Schools families that selected the hybrid option face additional complications.

Sonoma County is currently on California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s watchlist because of its high coronavirus rates. Elementary schools in counties on the watchlist can apply for waivers to reopen under a set of strict health guidelines, and with community input. But the waiver system was on hold all week as Sonoma County, and others, attempted to get an accurate assessment of virus case rates following technical problems in the state’s data-gathering apparatus that were not resolved until late Friday afternoon.

No students will return to campus until Sonoma County can demonstrate that its 14-day virus rate is below 200 cases per 100,000 people. And middle school and high school kids can’t go back until that rate falls below 100. Dr. Sundari Mase, the county health officer, said Friday that the most recent accurate readings were between 150 and 170 cases.

That leaves families like the Jimenez-Lieu household in limbo. And even if Cesar Chavez gets clearance to reopen, it will offer only two days of instruction for each child.

“It’ll still be a challenge,” Jimenez-Lieu said. “We’ll still have to cover child care costs for the other days they’re not in school. But it gives us a little break, three days vs. five. We’re talking to other parents, and the consensus is that this is what it’s coming down to. Can we afford this?”

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or On Twitter @Skinny_Post.

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