The following is a column submitted by Mendocino County Superintendent of Schools Michelle Hutchins, published here as a letter-to-the-editor:
When school started last fall, I hoped students would be safely back in the classroom before the winter holiday. Yet here we are, halfway through the school year, and most Mendocino County students have only ever seen their teachers and classmates via their computer screens. With vaccines becoming more widely available, I’m hopeful that students will be able to meet their teachers in person before the school year ends.
Here’s the latest with regard to COVID-19 and education.
Statewide Encouragement to Reopen Schools
The State is highly motivated to get students back in the classroom, especially the youngest students for whom distance learning is least effective and the need for supervision is most urgent. If elementary school students can safely return to in-person instruction, it would allow many parents to return to work, thus kick-starting an economy slowed to a crawl by the pandemic. Governor Newsom’s proposal—Safe Schools for All—provides extra funding for public schools that meet specific safety guidelines and can demonstrate that their teachers agree that it is safe to return to the classroom. You can read a summary at www.cdph.ca.gov under Guidance Documents.
Testing and Vaccinations
When it comes to reopening schools, there’s an ongoing discussion about exactly how often everyone will undergo COVID surveillance testing and who will pay for it, but those details should be forthcoming. Here in Mendocino County, Public Health is collaborating with medical providers to get as many people vaccinated as possible. Front-line healthcare workers are already receiving their second (and final) shot, while others are lining up for their first shot. All teachers and school staff interested in being vaccinated should have the opportunity to do so by the end of January.
Rules for Schools in the Purple Tier
Hopefully, these vaccinations will allow us to reduce the spread of COVID relatively quickly. California counties measure the prevalence of COVID and the rate of spread with the State’s COVID Tier System. In addition to the yellow/minimal, orange/moderate, red/substantial, and purple/widespread tiers, there is now an additional measure, a deep purple defined by a rolling average of more than 25 new cases per 100,000 people. Mendocino County’s case rate has been hovering around 33 per 100,000, so we have a long way to go before we can reopen schools for in-person instruction.
The Mendocino County Public Health COVID-19 dashboard provides a lot of excellent information, but it does not include the adjusted case rate. To view that, you must visit the State site: covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy. Scroll down to the map of California and click on Mendocino County. A data box will pop up displaying our adjusted case rate, among other information.
So, what does our current situation mean for Mendocino County schools? Here’s a brief summary.
- Schools already open for in-person instruction may stay open with continued vigilant implementation of COVID-19 protocols that prioritize the health and safety of students and staff.
- Schools that have not yet opened for in-person instruction may not open grades 7-12 for in-person instruction until the county reaches the Red Tier for five days.
- Schools that have not yet opened for in-person instruction may only open grades TK-6 for in-person instruction after the County’s adjusted case rate is less than 25 per 100,000 and schools comply with State and County reopening requirements.
- Small-group cohorts may continue. Schools may continue to serve students, including high-need students, in person in small cohorts or groups under the State’s Small Cohort Guidance. Schools offering these services are not considered “open” under the State’s definition.
If you’re interested in more details, an online search of “COVID-19 and Reopening In-Person Instruction Framework & Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools in California, 2020-2021 School Year” will route you to the California Department of Public Health’s 50-page guidance published January 14, 2021.
On a personal note, I encourage everyone who can get the vaccine to do so. This pandemic has been devastating for so many people and the sooner we can get it under control, the better. I believe the vaccine is our quickest route to a post-pandemic world.