California's State Superintendent Tony Thurmond released official guidance on school reopenings Monday as local districts prepare for fall opening dates.
The guidance document, “Stronger Together: A Guidebook for the Safe Reopening of California’s Public Schools,” will serve as a recommendations road map for schools, as they work with local public health officials and communities to navigate next steps.
"Recognizing that schools will need to open in a COVID-impacted era, we have worked to provide some guidance to our districts on the kinds of things that they should do and could do to accommodate our students being back on campus in a way that keeps them safe," Thurmond said.
Reopenings, he added, will be decided locally by districts.
According to the document, students and staff should wear face masks or face shields throughout the day and maintain at least 6 feet distance. Schools should have a sufficient amount of personal protective equipment, no-touch thermometers, hand sanitizer, soap and handwashing stations available.
Schools should plan to limit people in campus spaces to a number that can be reasonably accommodated while maintaining distance, and attempt to create smaller student/educator cohorts to minimize the mixing of student groups throughout the day.
Four different options for instructional models are outlined in the guidance:
- Two-Day Rotation Blended Learning Model: Students report to school on two designated days, based on grade level, for in-person instruction. On other days, students are engaged in enrichment opportunities, either on site or with community partners, that are coordinated by school instructional staff. On Fridays, all students would be engaged in distance learning.
A/B Week Blended Learning Model: Half the student population attends in-person learning opportunities four full days per week while the other half is engaged in distance learning. Students would alternate each week. One day a week, all students would be engaged in distance learning.
Looping Structure: For schools serving grade levels transitional kindergarten through eighth, there's an opportunity for students to stay with the same teacher in cohorts for multiple grade levels.
Early/Late Staggered Schedules: Grade level bands would have staggered start and dismissal times, such as AM/PM rotations. Bell schedules would accommodate multiple recesses and lunch periods and multiple meal distribution points, along with time for students to engage in handwashing before entering classrooms.
Schools could also consider serving meals in classrooms, increasing meal service access points and staggering cafeteria use.
The guidance states schools also must consider differing requirements of personal protective equipment for students with disabilities and how to honor physical distancing recommendations while meeting their medical, personal or support needs.
Physical education and intramural/interscholastic athletics should be limited to activities that don't involve physical contact with other students or equipment until advised otherwise by state/local public health officials, according to the guidance. Schools will need to consult public health experts for when sports and extracurricular activities may resume.
School buses have two options: seat one student to a bench on both sides of the bus, skipping every other row, or seat one student to a bench, alternating rows on each side to create a zigzag pattern.
At least daily, schools should disinfect surfaces such as door handles, handrails, drinking fountains, sink handles, restroom surfaces, instructional materials and playground equipment, the document states.
Thurmond said parents should check their child's temperature before sending them to school.
If there's another spike in coronavirus cases this fall, Thurmond said officials and educators would have to "prepare for the likelihood that we could have to return to distance learning."
Locally, a school reopening task force has been meeting for several weeks, made up of educational partners from districts small and large throughout the county, explained Robert Meszaros, Kern County Superintendent of Schools spokesman.
"School officials are hard at work trying to balance competing priorities," he said. "On one hand, you have to ensure the safety of everyone involved, and on the other hand, you have to ensure that the educational and social-emotional well-being of your students are being met."
Districts have been sending surveys to local stakeholders to find the best ways to reopen.
When schools physically open, Meszaros said distance learning will likely be part of the new normal for some time, schools will likely have fewer students on campus at a time, and face coverings will likely be encouraged but not required, unless physical distancing is impossible.
Other modifications that have been discussed include modifying desk layouts, screening students and staff for COVID-19 symptoms, eliminating large gatherings such as assemblies, ensuring students' belongings are separated and avoiding sharing items, Meszaros said.