By Matthew Rodriguez

After a nearly seven-hour meeting, the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education decided to reopen campuses for elementary school students beginning at the end of the month.

Pre-K, Transitional Kindergarten and kindergarten will return first on March 30. Then first and second graders will return on April 1. And finally, after spring break, third to fifth graders will return on April 13. If the COVID-19 case rate of Los Angeles County drops below seven cases per 100,000 the district will be allowed to bring middle and high school students. The current case rate stands at 7.2.

“It’s been quite a difficult journey,” said Superintendent Brian McDonald. “We’ve put a lot of time and effort into planning for the safe return of our students and staff.

“Given the safety measures that we have in place and that every employee will have the opportunity to receive the vaccine, we believe that its time now to return our students to in-person learning.”

According to McDonald, the district has vaccinated close to half of the 2,400 PUSD employees.

Confident in the plan presented and the medical guidance from health officials, the board ratified the resolution on a 5-2 vote, with members Tina Fredericks and Michelle Richardson Bailey dissenting.

Fredericks supported an alternative plan presented by board member Patrick Cahalan. While the state would give school districts $5.4 million to reopen before April 1, if the school district would open after that deadline it would only lose 1% for every day afterward — excluding any holidays or scheduled breaks, such as spring break. Fearing families and others traveling for spring break, Cahalan suggested opening after the break on April 13 which would only impact incentives by 2% or $108,000.

“We’re getting ($5.4) million if we meet the deadline and the penalty is 1% per day,” Fredericks said.

Even if the state counted the days during spring break, the school would still receive over $4 million, she said. Bailey also expressed her displeasure with the board’s concern over the money when over 2,000 employees may be impacted by the decision to return.

While Fredericks wanted to reopen at least after the spring break, Bailey wanted to stay with virtual education, hoping to take the spring, summer and fall to produce a new plan for public education for the next school year.

The board spent the first three hours of the meeting listening to public comments, read aloud by Bailey and board member Elizabeth Pomeroy. Most were from teachers concerned about returning to campuses.

Bailey explained that she empathized with fearful teachers after nearly dying to a respiratory illness.

“I should’ve been dead,” Bailey said. “When you experience something like you don’t ever want to hear or see anybody else go through something like that. When I hear we have this virus that happens to be a respiratory virus and that people are dying from it, it takes me back to that experience.”

While the board has approved the reopen date, they will still have to negotiate with the labor organizations. PUSD parents can also choose to send their children to in-person learning or remain in distance learning.