Open for students

Like all schools in Del Norte County, Joe Hamilton School is open for students every week.

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Del Norte Unified School District is open and welcoming students every day, just as the district has since September.

Despite the COVID challenges, Superintendent Jeff Harris said his board, teachers and staff have worked relentlessly to keep the schools open.

“We still have folks in our community who don’t know schools are open,” Harris told the Crescent City City Council on Monday. “Our schools have had students on campus since mid-September. We have run a hybrid program since Oct. 5. We’ve been open longer and more consistently than 97 percent of the state of California. While it’s not nearly to the extent we would want it to be, while we would love to see our students every day, we are open from our infant-toddler program to our adult education program.”

Harris said he would love to re-open schools fully, with every child in class eight hours a day. But state requirements for social distancing make it impossible in Del Norte County.

“The barrier that we’re facing that stops us from seeing them more is basically distance,” Harris said.

He explained state requirements mandate each desk have two feet in front, back and on both sides that are empty.

“That puts us at about half a class size,” Harris said. “That’s about where we are. If that size were to diminish, we could do more. My frustrations are the constantly shifting on our teachers, on our students and on our families.”

Harris said he believes the fastest way to return schools to normal, with every student in class every day, is to amp up vaccinations.

“I have a strong feeling as we move forward, vaccinations will be a component about returning fully to school,” Harris said. “It is not part of the vaccine plan that it will be mandatory. You may hear rumors, but we urge people to contact the schools directly to get accurate information.”

Even with the challenges, Harris said some things are getting back to normal – sort of.

“Sports are up and going,” Harris said. “We’re looking forward to seeing all the blue and gold on the streets.”

Harris said Del Norte schools have hosted several sporting events. The one exception is football, where two players tested positive for COVID. As a result, the football schedule has been altered and the team will not open the week as scheduled this Friday.

With the 2020-21 school year very unusual, Harris said the district is working on summer plans to help students who have fallen behind and help others who may have missed out on opportunities given during normal times.

“We are looking at how do we mitigate some of the learning loss that happened the past 12 months,” he said. “We’re looking at a variety of summer projects, from summer school to being far, far, far from traditional summer school.”

One element he discussed with the council was the district’s swim lessons. Traditionally, fourth-grade students take swim lessons in the city pool every year. Both this year’s class and last year’s class missed out on that, but Harris said he is working with the city to get those kids into the pool, even if it’s not until the next school year.

In closing his presentation, Harris said counties like Del Norte have suffered due to the statewide rules that are constantly changing and leaving little control in local districts. He told the council, the city and community members should reach out to the state and ask for greater local control.

“I don’t think Sacramento listens to Del Norte County,” he said. “We were one of the last in the state to get vaccinated. When we talk to the state about the needs of our community, we get lip service. They say, we know. What they don’t know is they don’t know the toll this is taking on our tribal communities, on our families, on our economy, on our students and emotional well-being of our kids - the number of students who have expressed suicidal deviations, depression, anxiety. In some ways it is criminal what our county has been put through in times when, maybe, there were other alternatives.”

Mayor Jason Greenough told Harris the city would do all it could to support the schools.

“I know I get frustrated on a daily basis on the one-size-fits-all that comes out of Sacramento, and COVID is no different,” Greenough said.

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