Reopening California: Santa Clara County releases plan to reopen schools amid COVID-19 pandemic

Santa Clara County officials announced their plan for K-12 public and private schools to safely reopen for the 2020-21 school year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 22-page guideline explores how to continue with in-person instruction without increasing risk to COVID-19.

“It is up to us to adapt to this virus and to do anything possible to suppress the levels.” County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said. “The better that we do that, the more sure we can be that schools can safely open.”

While there is no guarantee schools will return this year, guidelines would require middle school and high school students to adapt to physical distancing and face covers.

The rules for younger elementary school students will focus more on establishing stable cohorts of students that don’t intermix, since there is a greater need for in-person instruction and it’s harder to enforce social distancing. For middle school and high school students, there will be a bigger emphasis on wearing face coverings, keeping physical distance and may utilize more online learning.

All schools will be required to do the following in order to reopen:

  • Drop-off and pick-up: Ask parents to stay in cars (when possible) for drop-off and pick-up, or at least wear a mask. Have staff disperse gathered students during these times. 
  • Elementary classes: Keep students in a stable cohort that doesn’t mix with other cohorts or teachers. 
  • Middle school classes: Maximize distancing between student desks.
  • High school classes: Keep teachers at least 6 feet from students and create a stable seating chart so that close contact is limited. 
  • School buses: Bus drivers and students need to wear face masks and students need to sit far apart on the bus.
  • Face coverings: Students should wear masks when arriving, leaving, or outside the classroom. Elementary school students are encouraged, but not required to wear cloth face coverings in their stable classroom cohort. Middle and high school students are required to wear them even in the classroom. Teachers and staff have to wear them at all times.
  • Activities: “Aerosol generating activities,” such as choir, band and vocal cheerleading, are banned. Guidance is forthcoming on extracurricular sports, the county says.

All schools are being told to prepare for the possibility of school shutting down again and a return to distance learning.

Dr. Cody said Tuesday, officials are learning young kids don’t bring the same concern with COVID-19 transmission, that they do with the flu.

“In fact, it’s probably more likely that an adult would spread to a child,” she said.

According to new guidance, if a student or staff member tests positive, immediate actions could include an entire cohort be tested and quarantined for two weeks.

For Alum Rock School District, great risk is a reality. Public health data shows several zipcodes within the Alum Rock neighborhood register as having the highest case rates in the county.

“From the Alum Rock School District’s perspective, we’re not there yet,” District Superintendent, Dr. Hilaria Bauer said.

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