Governor and California Department of Public Health Issue Guidance and Restrictions Regarding Reopening of K-12 Schools for In-Person Instruction

CATEGORY: Special Bulletins
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
AUTHOR: Liebert Cassidy Whitmore
PUBLICATION: LCW Special Bulletin
DATE: Jul 22, 2020

On July 17, 2020, Governor Newsom announced statewide restrictions on the reopening of K-12 schools. Along with this announcement, the California Department of Public Health (“CDHP”) issued updated state guidelines and requirements regarding both in person and distance learning, as summarized in this bulletin.

A. Restrictions on when Districts are Permitted to Reopen for In Person Instruction

School districts within the state may reopen for in-person instruction at any time if they are located in a local health jurisdiction that has not been on the county monitoring list within the prior 14 days. Consistent with these restrictions, the CDHP issued a COVID-19 and Reopening In-Person Learning Framework for K-12 Schools in California for the 2020-2021 School Year, which is accessible here.

Currently, 32 of California’s 58 counties are included on the Governor’s county monitoring list. The list of counties on the monitoring list is available here.

The framework issued by the CDPH states the local health officer may grant a waiver of the above criteria for elementary schools to open for in-person instruction. A local health officer may only grant a waiver if one is requested by the superintendent (or equivalent for charter schools), in consultation with labor, parent, and community organizations. Local health officers must review local community epidemiological data, consider other public health interventions, and consult with CDPH when considering a waiver request.

The CDPH Framework states that if officials place a county on the monitoring list after a district within that county reopens schools for in-person instruction, the districts’ schools are not required to close, but the district should begin testing employees for COVID-19, or increase frequency of employee testing.

B. Testing Guidelines

The CDPH Framework also includes recommendations regarding the regular testing of employees for COVID-19 within districts that do reopen for in person instruction.

The CDPH Framework recommends districts implement surveillance testing based on local disease trends once a district re-opens schools to at least some in-person instruction. The CDPH states districts “shall test staff periodically, as testing capacity permits and as practicable.” Examples of recommended frequency for testing provided by the CDPH include testing all school employees over two months, where 25% of employees are tested every two weeks, or 50% every month to rotate testing of all employees over time.

C. Guidelines on District and School Closures

The CDPH Framework includes guidance on when a district should close a school, or a district should close all schools in the district, due to COVID-19 positive tests. The Framework specifically provides:

  • The CDPH recommends individual school closure based on the number of COVID-19 cases, the percentage of the teachers/students/employees who test positive for COVID-19, and following consultation with the Local Health Officer. Individual school closures may be appropriate when there are multiple cases in multiple cohorts at a school or when at least 5% of the total number of teachers/students/employees test positive within a 14-day period, depending on the size and physical layout of the school.
  • Districts should close all schools in the district if 25% or more of schools in a district have closed due to COVID-19 within a 14-day period.

Schools and districts may typically reopen after 14 days and the following:

  • Cleaning and disinfecting the site;
  • Public health investigation; and
  • Consultation with the local public health department.

The Local Health Officer may also determine school or district closure is warranted for other reasons, including results from public health investigation or other epidemiological data.

D. New State Guidelines and Requirements

The CDPH issued updated guidelines and requirements for the reopening of schools and school-based programs, which are accessible here. Among some of the new criteria are the following:

  • Face coverings are required for students in third grade and older and for all employees, unless a person is exempt as explained in the guidelines. Persons younger than two years old, anyone who has trouble breathing, anyone who is unconscious or incapacitated, and anyone who is otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance are exempt from wearing a face covering.
  • Face coverings are strongly encouraged for young children between two years old and second grade if the students are able to wear the mask properly. A face shield is an acceptable alternative for children in this cohort who cannot wear face coverings properly.
  • Students may remove cloth face coverings or face shields for meals, snacks, naptime, or outdoor recreation, or when the face covering needs to be replaced. When a student temporarily removes the cloth face covering, the student should place the face covering in a clean paper bag (marked with the student’s name and date) until the student needs to put the mask on again.
  • Districts and schools must exclude students from campus if they are not exempt from wearing a face covering under CDPH guidelines and refuse to wear one provided by the district. Districts should develop protocols to provide a face covering to students who inadvertently fail to bring a face covering to school to prevent unnecessary exclusions.  Districts should offer alternative educational opportunities for students they exclude from campus on this basis.
  • All employees must wear face coverings in accordance with CDPH guidelines unless Cal/OSHA standards require respiratory protection. In limited situations where an employee cannot use a face covering for pedagogical or developmental reasons, (i.e. communicating or assisting young children or those with special needs), the employee may wear a face shield instead of a cloth face covering while in the classroom as long as the wearer maintains physical distance from others, to the extent practicable. Employees must return to wearing a face covering outside of the classroom.
  • The District should position teacher and other employees’ desks at least six feet away from student desks. Districts should consider ways to establish separation of students through other means if practicable, such as six feet between desks where practicable, placing partitions between desks, and placing markings on classroom floors to promote distancing or arranging desks in a way that minimizes face-to-face contact.
  • Districts should consider using privacy boards or clear screens to increase and enforce separation between employees and students.
  • Districts should implement screening and other procedures for all employees and students entering the facility. This includes conducting visual wellness checks of all students or establishing procedures for parents to monitor at home. If checking temperatures, use a no-touch thermometer.

Under the state public health officer’s March 22 order, workers supporting schools for purposes of distance learning were considered essential workers who could continue working if remote working was not practical. The orders and guidance announced Friday did not modify the definition of those workers as essential.

Districts should refer to local orders and requirements when implementing these new guidelines because they may impose additional or more stringent requirements and recommendations.