Students at Rio Rico High School celebrate being back on campus with school mascot Rico on the first day of the school district’s second try at hybrid learning on March 15.

Seventy-two percent of students at the Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District are participating in the hybrid program, an in-person/distance learning model, Assistant Superintendent Melisa Lunderville told the SCVUSD governing board on Tuesday.

SCVUSD, like other districts in the county and state, restarted their hybrid programs on March 15 amid declining numbers of COVID-19 cases and a steady rollout of coronavirus vaccines. Schools are also continuing to offer distance-only learning models for those students who are not comfortable returning to campus.

“That’s awesome,” board member Rene Ramirez said in response to the 72-percent hybrid participation figure. During a board meeting on Oct. 27, shortly before SCVUSD pulled the plug on its first attempt to offer hybrid learning, Superintendent David Verdugo said that 65 percent of district students had opted for the model.

Ramirez, who teaches German at Nogales High School, said during Tuesday’s session that he noticed a jump in attendance in one of his classes the day after he, in response to a question from one of his distance-learning students, turned his computer camera toward his in-person pupils to show them busy at work in the classroom.

“All of a sudden in that class, I got four more kids the next day,” he said, speculating that the increase came after parents were encouraged by the images they saw of the classroom.

“So I just want to say that it engendered confidence, and if teachers want to increase their numbers, maybe if they just show that things are going normally in class that might engender a lot of confidence,” he said.

Board member Joel Kramer suggested that parents might ask why the district isn’t offering full in-person instruction, like some other districts in the state. Under the hybrid model, most students have two days of in-person instruction per week alternating with days of distance learning from home.

“Other districts have made that leap to everybody back all the time,” Lunderville said. “I think for us, we wanted to err on the side of caution, make sure we were safe and try to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”

Teachers and school personnel have been given priority for COVID-19 vaccinations. However, state vaccination data showed that nobody under the age of 20 in Santa Cruz County had been vaccinated as of Thursday, meaning that students have not received inoculations.

So far, Santa Cruz County has only received vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, which are approved for people 18 and older. The Pfizer-made vaccine can be given to 16- and 17-year-olds, but none have been distributed here.

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