County begins accepting in-school instruction waivers

The interior of one of the 21 new classrooms made from steel shipping containers at Sierra Vista Junior high School in Canyon Country on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Elementary school districts in the Santa Clarita Valley have begun discussions on the option to submit a waiver to Los Angeles County that would allow the reopening of schools for grades TK-2.

The boards of trustees for the Newhall and Saugus Union school districts have voted in favor to move forward with the process of obtaining a waiver for their school campuses to open, while board members of Castaic Union and Sulphur Springs Union school districts are set to discuss the topic. 

“During our (Sept. 29) board meeting, the board made the decision to move in that direction,” said Newhall Superintendent Jeff Pelzel. “Everything is moving along. We’re just waiting to hear back from the unions then we can submit to have the schools reopen.”

The Saugus district board voted to begin the paperwork during the Sept. 15 board meeting, before the county approved waivers. Saugus superintendent Laura Arrowsmith said the district wanted to “get the ball rolling with the paperwork,” so when the county allowed the opening of schools, the district would be ready with the paperwork.

The Castaic board of trustees discussed the option of applying for a waiver during its Oct. 8 board meeting, but didn’t vote to move forward with the process.

“The board requested more information on it, so it’s an ongoing discussion,” said Charmin Ortega, executive assistant to the superintendent of the Castaic district.

Sulphur Springs board members are set to discuss the waivers during the Oct. 14 board meeting.

“We’re going to be discussing the waivers during our next board meeting,” said Sulphur Springs Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi. “If approved, we will begin the paperwork required by the county.”

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors announced school districts can begin submitting applications for waivers to reopen schools beginning Oct. 5. Once the necessary paperwork is gathered, the L.A. County Department of Public Health will review the application and, if approved, the district can reopen in-school instruction for students in grades TK-2 only.

The Department of Public Health will approve the reopening of as many as 30 schools in six school districts a week, and prioritize the schools with high numbers of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

In order to apply for a waiver, school districts must submit an application with basic school information, obtain letters of support from either labor unions or employees, complete a checklist provided by the Department of Public Health and provide detailed plans for testing and proof of adequate personal protection equipment.

The county Department of Public Health will review the application and consult with the California Department of Public Health. If approved, the district will be notified which schools can reopen and will undergo a site visit from the Department of Public Health’s school technical assistance team.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said during a news conference Monday that the application process can take two to three weeks.

“We’re hoping that if we work in close partnership with the entire school community we can be successful in reopening schools for our youngest students and students with the highest need without significantly increasing community transmission of COVID-19,” Ferrer said.

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