gilroy unified school district administration building camino arroyo
Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Gilroy’s Covid-19 case rate remains by far the highest in the county, which is one of the main reasons schools have been closed for in-person instruction since March.

Further complicating matters are the unanswered questions regarding the eventual reopening, such as testing and vaccinations of students and staff, ventilation improvements in classrooms and other issues.

Gilroy Unified School District Superintendent Deborah Flores gave the Board of Education an update on the district’s reopening plan Jan. 28, based on meetings from the Reopening Planning Committee, which was formed in May.

The committee, consisting of more than 30 district staff and parents, recommended that GUSD schools remain in distance learning. The district will consider if and when schools should reopen when Santa Clara County has been in the Red Tier of the state’s reopening framework for five consecutive days, and when the Covid-19 case rate in Gilroy is below 25 per 100,000 residents for at least five consecutive days.

Santa Clara County, currently in the most restrictive Purple Tier, is far from qualifying for the Red Tier, which requires counties to have a case rate of under seven per 100,000 residents. The county currently sits at 22.8.

Gilroy, meanwhile, has seen its case count more than double to 6,698 over the past three months, although the number of new cases has been trending downward in recent weeks, according to county health data.

Flores said that since Thanksgiving, there have been almost 60 Covid-19 cases among district staff. She pointed to county numbers showing that the Covid-19 death rate increases with age, adding that 150 of the district’s staff of 1,100 are 60 and older.

GUSD has hired a company to assess all 1,200 HVAC units in the district, which Flores expects won’t be complete for another few months. Questions also remain on how often students and staff must be tested, and if vaccinations will be mandatory.

Another wrinkle in the reopening plan is the six-foot separation requirements in classrooms, and Flores estimated that most classrooms in the district could only sit 10-12 students.

“There are many, many issues that need to be addressed before we can recommend students and staff return to Gilroy schools,” she said.

A proposal by Gov. Gavin Newsom to reopen classrooms to in-person instruction in February, with financial incentives to do so, would not apply to GUSD, as the district must reside in a county with a seven-day average Covid-19 case rate of 28 or lower per 100,000 residents.

The district expects athletic conditioning to return at the high school level in the next few weeks.

The trustees unanimously approved the report and expressed their support for the plan.

Trustee Linda Piceno said that while other school districts may be reopening, they do not have the type of Covid-19 numbers that Gilroy is experiencing.

“We are outliers in the county,” she said. “I take absolutely no pleasure in being number one in the Covid-19 rate in Santa Clara County. We have to look at that and take care of our own.”

Adrienne Rodriguez, a parent and former educator, wrote to the board that the district needs to consider the impact school closures are having on students.

“Public schools in Gilroy are closed for in-person instruction, yet private schools are open for in-person instruction or a hybrid model,” she wrote. “These private schools have been operating these models for months with little to no Covid-19 outbreaks. If you continue to make decisions based on fear, you are only making the situation worse for the students and their families.”

Melissa Vernon urged the district to “not rush anyone back into in-person learning.”

“Opening too soon could have deadly consequences,” she wrote.

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


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