A handful of Kern County elementary schools have expressed interest in a waiver program to allow on-site instruction as the upcoming school year gets underway, but the chances of approval are slim since local COVID-19 cases are among the highest in the state right now, according to county health officials. 

The waiver process, announced by the California Department of Public Health on Monday, describes a series of detailed measures schools must meet in order to be allowed to hold in-person classes on campus. If approved, those schools would be exempted from an order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom that mandates schools do remote learning only for now in Kern and three dozen other counties hard-hit by the virus.

A major factor at issue for local schools wanting a waiver is the surge of local cases. The state guidance on waivers says at the outset in bold that schools in counties with 14-day case rates of more than 200 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents should not be considered to reopen. 

Kern's most recent 14-day case rate is more than double that: 428 per 100,000 residents.

"A school can choose to apply but I think that’s going to be a concern," said Kern County Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine. 

The waiver is only available to elementary schools whose students typically struggle more than those in older grades with learning from home. California public health officials have cited current scientific evidence to show that students up to sixth grade have lower COVID-19 transmission rates between children and from children to adults to justify the waiver program. The risk of infection and serious illness in this age group is also low, the state agency has said.

Inquiries about the waiver program came from about 20 private schools and one public school, McKittrick Elementary School, in western Kern County, according to Kern County public health officials.

McKittrick, with a population of about 250, has had no reported cases of COVID-19, according to county data.

Its school has about 70 students, according to Superintendent/Principal Barry Koerner, and class sizes are typically about 16 students, while kindergarten classrooms have about eight children. The smaller class sizes would allow for easier social distancing to take place, Koerner said.

The district is preparing paperwork for the waiver once Kern County falls below 200 virus cases per 100,000 residents.

In-person instruction would help families who don’t have strong internet connectivity or have no access at all, and those who struggle with online learning, Koerner said. It also gives teachers a chance to better check in on students, he said.

“We’re such a small district and we’re in a small school that everyone is like family,” said Koerner. “You’re concerned about the kids who are in certain situations and you prefer to be checking on them daily face-to-face instead of through the computer.”

Robert Meszaros, spokesman for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office, which works with the county's public schools, said his office doesn't believe schools are eligible to reopen under the current guidelines but is advising districts to submit their waiver anyway so it's ready when COVID-19 case rates drop in Kern. 

Meszaros said the waiver may also be sought by some schools that want to hold in-person instruction for certain groups of students who need it most, such as those with disabilities or special needs. The state has said it will issue further guidance for those types of situations.

Under the waiver program, elementary schools wishing to reopen must consult with staff and labor groups, parents and community organizations about their reopening plans and publish the plan on the school or district website. 

General guidelines previously issued for all schools once they reopen will require face coverings, increased cleaning, physical distancing and testing of staff on a regular basis. A school would have to revert to distance learning if 5 percent of students and staff test positive within a 14-day period, the guidelines say.

Bethel Christian School in Bakersfield is also currently going through the state guidelines that were released Monday, and staff has already started working on its reopening plan document, explained Principal Michael Kennedy.

The school has about 50 students. Kennedy said the school’s individualized program has always included student cubicles at the elementary level, “so we were fortunate to already have partitions in place before the pandemic.”

The school is requesting the ability to provide both in-person instruction combined with a distance learning program.

“This will be extremely helpful, as about 10 percent of our student population currently has a need for continued online instruction, and the remaining 90 percent of our parents have requested that their students have an option to return to the campus,” he said.

Diocese of Fresno Superintendent of Catholic Schools Mona Faulkner said in an email the Bishop’s Reopening Task Force will meet this Friday, when the waiver process for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Fresno will be discussed.

Bakersfield City, Greenfield Union and Fruitvale school districts said they will not be applying for a waiver. Rosedale Union School District Superintendent Sue Lemon said information about the waiver process will be presented to the board of trustees at its next meeting.

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(10) comments

Masked 2020

Chlorinator......you obviously haven't been in a ICU in the last couple of weeks....... pretty sure the National Guard wouldn't be occupying the local hospitals if everything was as Hunky-dory as you and NakedDon like to portray

Gene Pool Chlorinator

Yorkies- when did I EVER say everything was "hunky-dory"?

Please- be specific and good luck finding that one...

Maybe it's time you quit making things up, but I doubt that will ever happen- just like your "25,000 people will be dead here in August" post...

Lil ole me

We clearly dont meet metrics to even apply for a waiver. We haven't had anything below 200 cases per 100,000 for weeks on end, maybe months. It takes a really long time to come down after we get this high. My concern is thg that these schools are using private tuition dollars, likely that weren't spent March-May as overhead costs decreased, to prepare these waiver requests that we dont qualify for. These monies may be better spent doing the physical modifications that will be required if we can ever pull together enough to get case numbers down. And I'm not even talking about the public school using its precious and limited public budget money to do the same fruitless action. As a taxpayer, I object to this use of funds at this time. And if you pay private tuition at these other schools, please ask them about the schools choice of using their tuition dollars for an effort that is destined to be denied due to clear orders, not guidelines. Whether they agree with them or not. An order is an order.

Masked 2020

we are are now a hot spot ....your doing a heck of job Chlorinator and Boris

Gene Pool Chlorinator

Yorkies- as usual, you lame comment makes no sense. Are you going to be like the other idiot that actually blamed me for our spike? Please tell me you're not that stupid...

Our testing numbers are up and our incidents are up, but our mortality rate is dropping, which is a good thing, but you can't get past the number of "new" cases. I use quotations because many of these results contain lagging information, which makes the per day numbers seem worse. I tested and it took two and a half weeks for me to get my results back.

Wanna guess what they were Yorkster??

LoveOurFlag

11 died yesterday, saturday. the 8th. I DO blame people like you. Keep listening to the orange one. Sooner or later his minions will come for you.

Gene Pool Chlorinator

LOF: You have the intellect of a brick and there's no use arguing with you because it's like arguing with a bumper sticker.

So, according to "LoveOurFlag", I'm responsible for everyone's personal conduct in the County? Really?

Do you realize how stupid you look making that comment? No- probably not.

Boris25

Anyone want to bet, school getting a waiver will have no more students catching COVID 19 than schools using virtual instruction.

Moardeeb

People just don't get it. One kid gets it they are toast in Mckitterick. 😷🤮🤧🤢😱☠

Gene Pool Chlorinator

Go check the information published by the state Dweeb- you know, your hero "Guv's" medical experts. Check K=6 and the transmission numbers, then get back to me...

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