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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

The Capistrano Unified School District recently announced that middle and high school students later this month can return to campus four days a week for the remainder of the school year—more than the amount of time they spend on campus currently but short of the full five-day schedule some parents had requested.

The four full days of instruction are for students currently enrolled in the hybrid model, with a virtual day each week, Superintendent Kirsten Vital Brulte said in a message to families on March 31. The increase will start on April 26.

“We know many of our families want to return to full-day instruction as soon as possible,” Brulte said. “Whenever we change working conditions, however, we must work with union leadership, including CUEA, CSEA, and Teamsters, to reach agreement on those new conditions.”

A previous challenge mentioned by Brulte and other CUSD officials and staff has been the 6-foot social distancing requirement, since classrooms were not designed for that type of clearance.

However, the California Department of Public Health adopted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation of 3-foot distancing for student seating on March 20. During a March 17 Board of Trustees meeting, Brulte said CUSD must follow state health guidelines.

“We are excited to return to a more normal school day, and we thank you for your patience and understanding as we adjust to the newest health and safety guidelines that allow us to increase the number of students in our classrooms,” Brulte said in the March 31 message. “This has been an extraordinarily challenging year for our families, students, teachers, classified staff, and administrators. We look forward to closing the 2020-21 school year strong.”

Students who are enrolled in the virtual learning curriculum under the hybrid model can still stick with online learning, and can switch to the virtual model if currently attending classes on campus. Masks will still be required if students are on campus.

District staff is expected to provide a draft of a “reopening 2.0” plan for the upcoming 2021-22 school year at the April 21 board meeting for discussion. Final action on the plan is scheduled for the May 19 meeting.

The announcement comes as CUSD is set to receive close to $50 million in federal funding to mitigate pandemic expenses, invest in programs for learning loss, and open schools full-time, district spokesperson Ryan Burris said.

“We will prioritize this federal money for learning loss and a full reopening in the fall—five days a week,” Burris said.

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