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County unveils school reopening guidelines

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The Gardner Bullis School playground stands empty, with caution tape blocking the equipment. Santa Clara County has now released guidelines on school reopening for next school year.

With the new school year set to begin next month, the county has now released detailed guidance on what must occur before campuses reopen.

The County of Santa Clara Public Health Department released a 23-page guide Tuesday (June 30) that included both requirements that must be in place before in-person classes can resume and recommendations the county urges districts to follow.

Among the requirements, elementary school students must remain within a stable classroom cohort for the entire school day, while junior high and high school students must wear face coverings in the classroom.

The guidance applies to all K-12 schools in the county, both public and private. Resuming in person instruction, with safety protocols in place, should be the priority, the guidance states.

“School closures magnify socioeconomic, racial, and other inequities among students,” the guidance states. “Disruption of normal childhood social interactions also have a profound adverse impact on students’ social and emotional well-being.”

According to Los Altos School District Superintendent Jeff Baier, the county’s guidelines are generally in line with what his district had been preparing for. However, accelerating case counts could present challenges to reopening.

“It’s a bit of a balancing act here, trying to accomplish the reopening of schools in the throes of spiking numbers,” Baier said.

Whether schools are actually able to move forward with reopening will depend on the virus’ containment in the coming weeks, according to a county press release. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced tightened restrictions today (July 1), closing restaurants, bars and movie theaters in 19 counties, including Santa Clara County.

Planning to reopen

The county’s guidance to schools varies by age group. The focus for younger kids is on maintaining stable cohorts, while for older students the priority is physical distancing and face coverings.

The county recommends that all classes are “as small as practicable,” though a specific number isn’t given. Elementary schoolers are required to be within one stable classroom cohort for the entire school day. For upper grades, maintaining a stable cohort is recommended, if feasible.

At all grade levels, teacher desks must be 6 feet away from students, and students must be in stable seating arrangements. For junior high and high school students, space is required to be maximized between desks and 6 feet is recommended. If the appropriate distance is not possible, the county recommends placing barriers between students.

All students will have to wear face coverings at certain times, including when outside the classroom, unless eating, drinking or engaging in physical activity. Elementary schoolers are encouraged to wear face coverings in class, while it is required of older students. Adults must wear face coverings at all times, except if eating or drinking.

There are exceptions to the face covering rules, including for students with special needs who can’t tolerate wearing one. The county also advises against excluding students from class who occasionally don’t wear a face covering or if a few students are consistently unable to.

“The small increase in risk of disease transmission does not justify classroom exclusion, but students without face coverings should maintain physical distance to the extent feasible,” the guidance states.

Outside of the classroom, the county recommends that at recess, children are separated into different areas by class and/or that recesses are staggered throughout the day. Physical education classes should be held outside whenever possible, the county recommends.

Extracurricular activities aren’t allowed unless 6 feet of distance and face coverings are possible at all times. In particular, the county bans “aerosol generating activities,” including in-person choir, band and “vocal cheerleading,” according to the guidance. School sports are going to be addressed in future guidance.

Once campuses reopen, frequently touched hard surfaces will have to be disinfected at least daily. That includes desks, chairs, door handles, playground equipment and toilets.

The county also lays out procedures for screening students and staff for COVID-19, as well as what to do if someone tests positive. Daily symptom screenings are required for all students and staff, though they can be conducted at home. If done on campus, schools can use self-reporting, visual inspection or a questionnaire.

Temperature screening is explicitly not required, because of its limited effectiveness and potential harms, the guidance states. People can spread COVID-19 before developing a fever, and some people never develop any symptoms but still infect others. Temperature screenings also have drawbacks, the county states, including the risk to those measuring temperatures and the time it would take to screen each student.

Any student or staff with identified COVID-19 symptoms, or a temperature above 100 degrees, must be sent home immediately. Monthly testing is also encouraged for all staff.

If a staff member or student tests positive, it must be immediately reported to school administrators, as well as if a household member or close contact tests positive. Schools are required to notify all staff and families in the school community of confirmed cases, while maintaining legally required confidentiality.

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