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Governor Announces Restrictions On The Reopening of K-12 Schools For In Person Instruction And Issues New State Guidance
Earlier today, Governor Newsom announced statewide restrictions on the reopening of K-12 schools, including private schools, and issued updated state guidelines and requirements regarding both in person and distance learning, as summarized in this bulletin.
A. Restrictions on when Schools are Permitted to Reopen for In Person Instruction
Schools and school districts within the state may reopen for in-person instruction at any time if they are located in a local health jurisdiction (LHJ) that has not been on the county monitoring list within the prior 14 days. Consistent with these restrictions, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) 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: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/CDPH%20Document%20Library/COVID-19/Schools%20Reopening%20Recommendations.pdf
Currently, 32 of California’s 58 counties are included on the Governor’s county monitoring list. Those include, but are not limited to, Los Angeles, Orange, San Francisco, Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, Marin, Santa Barbara, and San Diego. San Mateo County, for example, is not currently on the monitoring list. The list of counties on the monitoring list is available here: https://covid19.ca.gov/roadmap-counties/#top.
The framework issued by the CDPH states that a waiver of the above criteria may be granted by the local health officer for elementary schools to open for in-person instruction. A waiver may only be granted if one is requested by the superintendent (or equivalent for charter or private 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 a county is placed on the monitoring list after a school within that county reopens for in-person instruction, the school is not required to close, but should begin testing staff, or increase frequency of staff testing.
B. Testing Guidelines
The CPDH Framework also includes recommendations regarding the regular testing of COVID-19 within schools that do reopen for in person instruction.
The CPDH states that once schools are re-opened to at least some in-person instruction, it is recommended that surveillance testing be implemented based on the local disease trends. The CPDH states that schools “shall test staff periodically, as testing capacity permits and as practicable.” Examples of recommended frequency for testing provided by the CPDH include testing all staff over two months, where 25% of staff are tested every two weeks, or 50% every month to rotate testing of all staff over time.
C. Guidelines on School Closures
The CPDH Framework includes guidance on when a school should close after exposure to COVID-19. The guidance provides that individual school closure is recommended based on the number of cases, the percentage of staff/students/teachers that are positive, and the guidance of Local Public Health Officers. The guidance provides that 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/staff are cases within a 14 day period, depending on the size and physical layout of the school. The Local Health Officer may also determine school closure is warranted for other reasons, including results from public health investigation or other epidemiological data.
D. New State Guidelines and Requirements
The CPDH issued updated guidelines and requirements for the reopening of Schools and School-Based Programs, which are accessible here: https://files.covid19.ca.gov/pdf/guidance-schools.pdf. Among some of the new criteria are the following:
- Face coverings are required for students in third grade and older, and for all staff, 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 they can be worn properly. A face shield is an acceptable alternative for children in this cohort who cannot wear them properly.
- A cloth face covering or face shield should be removed for meals, snacks, naptime, or outdoor recreation, or when it needs to be replaced. When a cloth face covering is temporarily removed, it should be placed in a clean paper bag (marked with the student’s name and date) until it needs to be put on again.
- In order to comply, 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 school. Schools should develop protocols to provide a face covering to students who inadvertently fail to bring a face covering to school to prevent unnecessary exclusions. Schools should offer alternative educational opportunities for students who are excluded from campus.
- All staff must use face coverings in accordance with CDPH guidelines unless Cal/OSHA standards require respiratory protection. In limited situations where a face covering cannot be used for pedagogical or developmental reasons, (i.e. communicating or assisting young children or those with special needs), a face shield can be used instead of a cloth face covering while in the classroom as long as the wearer maintains physical distance from others, to the extent practicable. Staff must return to wearing a face covering outside of the classroom.
- The guidance strongly recommends – but does not require – that all students and staff be immunized each autumn against influenza unless contraindicated by personal medical conditions
- Teacher and other staff desks should be positioned at least six feet away from student desks. Consider ways to establish separation of students through other means if practicable, such as six feet between desks where practicable, partitions between desks, and markings on classroom floors to promote distancing or arranging desks in a way that minimizes face-to-face contact.
- Consider using privacy boards or clear screens to increase and enforce separation between staff and students.
- Implement screening and other procedures for all staff 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 definition of those workers as essential was not modified by the orders and guidance announced today.