Tomales High opens its campus, but virtual learning continues

03/17/2021

Tomales High School reopened its campus for the first time in a year last week, but it will take a loosening of restrictions before teachers can work with students in person again. Under the current guidelines, students on campus are still learning over the computer using noise-cancelling headphones; 70 of 162 students chose this option. They were asked to name friends they would like to be in a cohort with, and the school did its best to accommodate requests. Clubs are still meeting virtually, and spring sports practices started on Monday. A number of students who chose not to return did so because they didn’t feel like the model allows for school as they want it to be. Others stayed home because of health concerns in the family, or because they have to provide childcare for younger siblings. Next week, public health officials are expected to update the rules to allow for a more robust schedule, and a suite of changes is on the table, such as allowing for the mixing of cohorts and for more people ride school buses at once. Marin Public Health and the Marin County Office of Education are expected to jointly release their updated guidelines next week, and the district is working with its two unions to establish local criteria that would reflect the changes. Principal Adam Jennings explained that more flexibility is needed before the high school can offer more robust instruction. High schools have been the last to open in Marin because teachers specialize in subjects and every student typically has a different mix of classes. For Tomales students to attend all of their classes in person, they would need to interact with three cohorts a day, Mr. Jennings said. Current rules say students should remain in one stable cohort that does not mix with others. If cohorts were allowed to mix, schools would create seating charts and track friendships. “So if a kid were to come down with coronavirus, we would know who was sitting most closely to them in class, who they were eating with at lunch time and who their friends are outside school,” Mr. Jennings said. The school is also exploring relaxing its distancing requirements from six to four feet so that more students can fit in each classroom. Marin’s guidelines say six feet should be maintained where practicable, but four feet is okay if the other rules are followed. Another hurdle to reopening is transportation: Buses can only take one student per bench seat. Because of the reduced capacity, the elementary school day runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the high school goes from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., making scheduling difficult for families with multiple children.