SCV school officials say they’re prepared for middle and high school students to return, but there’s no definitive answer to the question of when.
Students in the Castaic Union School District and the William S. Hart Union High School District will continue to attend school remotely, as students in the elementary school districts prepare to return to in-person instruction this month.
“We are planning for the eventual return of our third- to sixth-grade students,” said Steve Doyle, superintendent of CUSD. “Unfortunately, there is little optimism from county officials that our middle school students will be allowed to return for in-person instruction this year.”
Middle school to high school
As of now, The Los Angeles County Department Public Health is not permitting students in higher grade levels to return to in-person instruction until the county reaches the threshold of 25 cases per 100,000 people, a threshold the county is far from, Muntu Davis, L.A. County health officer, said during a recent news conference.
“We’re doing everything we can to provide a safe environment for the students and staff once they’re allowed to return,” said Dave Caldwell, public information officer with the Hart district. “Once the county reaches the red tier, we’d be able to move forward from there but there’s no way to say definitely when that might be, but we want students to be back in the classroom.”
The county currently remains in the most restrictive tier, the purple tier, meaning the COVID-19 virus is widespread in community transmission. Public Health officials said Monday although the average daily case number has decreased to 5,000, that number remains high.
The elementary school districts that were able to obtain a reopening waiver last year are preparing to reopen in-person instruction for small cohorts and students in TK to second grade.
The Castaic Union School District board of trustees voted during the Jan. 14 meeting for in-person instruction to resume Feb. 22, a plan that will be revisited during the Feb. 11 board meeting, according to Doyle.
Doyle added small cohorts for students with high needs resumed this week.
Newhall School District Superintendent Jeff Pelzel said during a board meeting last week that the board gave authorization to begin in-person instruction for TK- to second-grade students Feb. 8.
However, after a conversation this week with Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, Pelzel said the district learned it had to delay reopening by one week due to a new requirement by the state — which was not known to Public Health or school district officials at the time of their reopening announcement. The reason for the change has not been made clear to school officials as of Friday, Pelzel said.
“We’ve followed all the county and state guidelines so far,” Pelzel said. “We’ve had visits from Public Health officials, implemented all the health and safety protocols and had the (Cal)/OSHA requirements posted on our website. We don’t know what the state’s new requirement could possibly be.”
Pelzel said the district is still waiting for word on the state’s new requirement as of Friday, causing the return date for TK-2nd grade students to be pushed back to Feb. 16.
The news this week frustrated school officials and parents.
“We didn’t expect this (delay) to happen for a third time,” said Stevenson Ranch resident Tara Wheatley, whose child attends Pico Elementary School in the Newhall district. “It’s unfair for the children to have these requirements that keep delaying them from returning to school, and it’s unfair for the parents to not be given clear and concise answers as to why there’s a delay.”
Students in lower grade levels within the Sulphur Springs Union School District can expect to return to in-person instruction from Feb. 16-22, according to Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi.
The district decided on two reopening dates to “allow for a smoother transition to reopen schools,” said Ken Chase, SSUSD board president, a move also implemented by other local districts. “Also, it will allow a greater focus on any issues that need to be resolved.”
County Public Health officials are currently allowing up to 12 students in a classroom for the initial reopening.
“(We’ve) been prepared to open for on-campus instruction since August,” said Saugus Union School District Superintendent Colleen Hawkins. “Each time the state or the county have altered the requirements, we’ve immediately prepared for implementation of those new requirements.”
As the state revised school reopening framework in mid-January, school districts across the SCV were required to post COVID-19 protection/safety plans to their websites that outline public health guidelines.
To be in compliance with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), all four elementary school districts in SCV posted safety and protection plans to their websites for staff and parent access.
The plans laid out similar protocols already required by the California Department of Public Health and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Cal/OSHA required the plans to be posted on each district’s websites by Feb. 1.
“The pieces of the COVID(-19) Safety Plan are determined by the California Department of Public Health and required by Cal/OSHA,” Hawkins noted, “but are in alignment with the existing (Public) Health officer protocols that we have been using since last June.”