Public Health explains guidelines for school reopenings

Students complete assignments during their small cohort classes at Live Oak Elementary School as pictured Feb. 2, 2021. Courtesy of the Castaic Union School District

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health officials laid out guidelines that would allow elementary schools to return to in-person instruction immediately, following the announcement L.A. County had reached the necessary threshold, per the state’s metrics.

In order for elementary schools to reopen, the state requires a county to report an adjusted case rate of 25 per 100,000 residents for five straight days, which L.A. County reached Tuesday, with an adjusted rate of 20 per 100,000, according to the state’s data and county Public Health officials. 

Grades seven through 12 will not be permitted to reopen until the county’s adjusted case rate falls below seven per 100,000 residents, Public Health officials added.

Schools with transitional kindergarten through sixth-grade students are permitted to reopen once they’ve submitted plans to county and state Public Health officials showing they’ve put the required safety measures in place to permit a safe reopening. These schools must continue to offer 100% distance-learning opportunities, also.

“This is a steep hill to climb,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “For the schools that have reopened, there’s nothing easy about making the modifications that are required for the reopening. From making sure that everyone is always fully masked to making sure that you’ve got these stable cohorts that aren’t mixing, the reality is that as students return to the classrooms …  the classroom setting looks very different right now than it looked like a year ago.” 

These safety measures and guidelines, which include masking, distancing and COVID-19 testing, among others, have been in place since September, when the county Board of Supervisors voted to allow schools to apply for reopening waivers for transitional kindergarten to second-grade students.

Since then, nearly 300 schools countywide, and approximately two dozen in the Santa Clarita Valley, have been granted waivers, according to the Public Health website.

Schools, including those already reopened under the waiver program, now need to complete a COVID-19 safety plan that includes establishing California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s COVID-19 prevention program prior to reopening or expanding in-person instruction, along with completing the county’s reopening protocol checklist, Ferrer said. If no concerns are noted by either the state or the county health department in seven days, schools are permitted to open on the eighth day. 

To date, 12 school districts and 173 private or charter schools across the county have already submitted their COVID-19 safety plans and are approved to reopen, while more are pending review, per Public Health. A list of those schools is expected to be posted on Public Health’s website Wednesday.

All schools can continue offering support to high-need students in small cohorts or one-on-one, along with child care in cohorts, while school-based youth sports are also allowed to continue outdoor conditioning and skill building, with outdoor low-contact sports, such as cross country, swim, tennis, and track and field, permitted.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines for schools reopening Friday, noting that strictly implemented mitigation measures would allow schools to reopen for in-person instruction safely, with many of those mitigation strategies aligning with the county’s.

Meanwhile, county Public Health officials have said educators will be among the next group to be vaccinated, yet difficulty acquiring enough doses has pushed the timeline back to March 1 for those in this group. 

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