In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools within the Hollister School District will remain closed until at least Jan. 4, following a 4-1 vote by the Board of Trustees at a special Oct. 13 meeting. Trustee Robert Bernosky, currently running for reelection, was the only “no” vote.
Hours before the meeting, San Benito County was cleared to advance to Tier 2 (Red) of the California Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework. According to a recent release, “The state of California effective immediately downgrades the risk level assigned to San Benito County from ‘widespread’ to ‘substantial’ which will allow more doors to open in businesses and schools.”
HSD Superintendent Diego Ochoa presented a packet outlining new evidence and data about COVID-19 transmission as “continuing to emerge regularly.” He said this was the basis for his recommendation to maintain campus closures at least through Jan. 3, 2021.
Citing data from San Benito County Public Health Services concerning active cases by age groups (5-24, 25-49, 50-64), Ochoa said, “I think it’s fair to say the three age ranges represent the children we serve and the employees we serve.”
Bernosky asked if there was a demand from families on reopening HSD schools. Ochoa replied that there were some, and he clarified that teachers were not “demanding” to return, but there was a percentage of those surveyed who said they were willing to return.
Bernosky pointed out that some rural schools outside of the district are open for in-person instruction on waivers and said he hadn’t “heard of any horrific stories that come from that.”
“I truly believe that kids are being hurt bad and I don’t know how we are going to recover from this the longer this goes on,” he said. “Those that are willing, I think we should try to pair them up in a real classroom, with real live instruction, with a real live principal until there’s a compelling reason not to.”
Trustee Carla Torres De Luna said she was thankful for the willingness to put student and staff health at the forefront of the decision to remain closed, as well as the need to not disrupt families who already have routines and care set up to fit the current distance learning model.
“I know there are issues, we are trying to work them out, and I think families are doing the best they can to adjust,” she said.
Trustee Steven Kain said, “It just seems easier to finish this semester and hopefully we’ll be able to start the next semester with everybody on the same ground.”
Bernosky held firm on his position to come up with an option for those willing to return to in-person instruction. Kain said, “To me, it’s just not rational. We are not a rural school, we have a lot more people.”
Bernosky responded, “I want to serve all of our constituents and some of our constituents would like their kids to be in school. So I think by ignoring them we are not serving them.”
The meeting was one of four predetermined dates the board previously set to discuss school reopening plans. The next date to discuss reopening is Dec. 8.
The next HSD board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 27. The public is encouraged to participate via phone—(831) 630-6320 to enter the public comment queue—or via email to [email protected].
BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is working around the clock during this time when accurate information is essential. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s news.