NEWMAN - Orestimba High and Yolo Middle School students may be returning to the classroom before spring break after all.

Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District Superintendent Randy Fillpot said the district has learned that it may be able to open Orestimba and Yolo for in-person instruction as soon as March 25.

Earlier this week, Fillpot had announced that the district would not reopen those campuses until April 12 at the earliest. That was based on COVID-19 case rates which did not meet the criteria for the county to move from the purple tier to the red tier in the state's reopening guidelines, and consideration of the upcoming spring break.

But, Fillpot said, it was subsequently announced that Stanislaus County had met the threshold required to move into the red tier under a different criteria - the positivity rate of COVID-19 testing. If the county continues to meet that metric, he reported, it qualifies to move into the red tier on Tuesday, March 23.

Fillpot said that the district is also awaiting clarification on a Southern California lawsuit in which a temporary restraining order was issued against state guidelines for school reopening. It was not immediately clear if the order applies only in San Diego or statewide, Fillpot explained. If statewide, he said districts can reopen as soon as they choose.

Fillpot told Mattos Newspapers that March 25 will be the earliest the district's secondary campuses will reopen in any event - and that no announcement changing the April 12 reopening date will be made unless an alternative is known with certainty. That may mean not making an announcement until next Tuesday.

"We will not put out anything until we are absolutely certain. We will bring them back if we can. I'm hoping quite frankly that we can open (on March 25). We just don't want to open and then be told that we have to close again," Fillpot commented. "If we don't have the thumbs up to open by then, I don't see us opening until April 12."

Fillpot said, however, that Orestimba and Yolo may start bringing back small cohort groups of students with acute needs on Monday, regardless of whether the broader reopening occurs later next week or in mid-April.

Students have the option of returning to in-person instruction two days a week when schools do reopen, or remaining completely on distance learning for the remainder of the school year.