By Jane Northrop
Local school districts remain undecided about whether to hold live or virtual classes or take a hybrid approach when the fall semester begins in August. Most of last semester was taught through virtual classes since the San Mateo County Health Officer issued a shelter in place order in mid-March.
The Health Officer also requires social distancing and mask wearing when in public and that order remains in effect. Some of the questions school districts are grappling with — how to restrict students and staff by creating social distancing, requiring mask wearing and what health checks and cleanliness may be part of the new routine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a report June 25, “COVID-19 Planning Considerations – Guidance for School Re-entry.” The doctor’s group stresses flexibility about reacting to the most recent health information about the level of viral transmission in the school and in the community and staying in close touch with state and local health officials to get that information.
AAP states the goal should be to have all students present in school.
“There is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of support services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression and suicidal ideation,” the report states.
The superintendent of the Jefferson Union High School District (JUHSD), Dr. Terry Deloria, convened a return-to-school committee of teachers, administrators, office staff, parents and students who presented various possible scenarios to the Board of Trustees in a special meeting June 30.
No final decision was reached.
“The committee, board and superintendent agreed that, given the recent spike of COVID cases, we need to review the latest available data at the Aug. 3 meeting to make a decision,” said April Hawkins, director of communications and housing.
The Pacifica School District (PSD) will open for students August 19. More details will be decided later this month about how that will be accomplished, said Superintendent Dr. Heather Olsen.
“We have a committee of more than 50 classified staff, teachers and administrators working on the plans in working groups for health and safety, instruction and technology, special education and wellness. Our recommendation is going to the board on July 15. We are closely watching the schedule that JUHSD chooses because if it works for K-8, we’ll try to match their schedule. School will be very different at the start of school next year. We are likely to start in a hybrid model where about half of the class attends school at a time. We know students and families are eager to return to school,” she said.
At Pacific Bay Christian School, the head of school, Dr. Michael Chen, wrote a letter to families June 10 expressing his gratitude for the way distance learning was successfully accomplished since the shelter-in-place order mid-March. The letter spoke to the planning underway with school board members and senior administrative staff members considering various scenarios for school reopening.
He will spend the summer responsive to the rapidly-changing COVID-19 data and guidance coming from the Center for Disease Control, World Health Organization and the San Mateo County Health Department. The school year will begin August 11.
“The County Health Department’s order and guidelines as well as the best health and educational practices in our region at the time will influence how we will begin the school year,” he said.
He said he is asking the following questions, “To what extent can the health and safety of students, families and teachers be safeguarded while opening school? To what extent can we reasonably facilitate school life events and provide a sense of normalcy for our students, while protecting the health, wellbeing and safety of our learning community? To what extent can we provide educational equity through our chosen approach?”
Pacific Bay has developed processes to minimize exposure to COVID-19, if necessary. That includes good hygiene practices, wearing face coverings and establishing temperature checks. Students will not be allowed to share supplies. Large gatherings will be restricted. A combined virtual and in person learning curriculum will be used. Lunch service, food packaging, outdoor education and athletics will all change.
Good Shepherd School plans to open August 18 and have school hours of 7:55 a.m. to 3 p.m.
San Mateo County Office of Education released a document, “Pandemic Recovery Framework for Schools,” about what conditions are needed to return to school for on-site learning. That involves recommendations on cleaning routines and supplies required before campuses are safe. It provides a model for a hybrid approach to learning – part on campus and part at home.
“Schools will follow the San Mateo County Health Officer’s guidance and orders as they begin their return to campuses. These orders – and not the recommendations of other ‘experts ‘– will guide school’s actions,” the report reads.
Schools should shape their return to campus around the students with the most urgent learning needs and developmental needs, it states. Safe practices should keep all employees safe. Those practices could include temperature taking, hygienic routines, requiring face covering, physical distancing and limiting gatherings.
A communication system is in place if a member of a San Mateo County school community tests positive for COVID-19.
The AAP report also offered guidance to follow for social distancing, mask wearing and potential curriculum changes to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Children may be less likely to spread infection, but adults should try to maintain physical distancing of six feet, the report reads. In the classroom, physical distancing measures, which is adhering to a six-foot space between desks should be considered when feasible, three feet if the students are wearing face coverings. Reducing class size should be discouraged in favor of other mitigation measures.
The AAP report states parents should be discouraged from coming onto campus. A thick plexiglass barrier should be installed at the reception area. Hand washing and infection prevention education should be provided for staff and families. Practice singing and hold physical education classes outdoors. Change the curriculum to block scheduling.
Eliminate lockers or assign them by cohort group to reduce hallway use. Have teachers rotate classrooms instead of students. Hallways should be one way. On the playground, cohort groups of students would be permitted to mingle. In the cafeteria, classes should have separate lunch periods. On the bus, assign seating or use other transportation options, the AAP report states.
The AAP report states what kind of cleaning should be done. Cleaning with soap and water and using disinfectant should be enough, but high touch surfaces should be left open or well maintained by frequent cleaning, such as playground equipment. Students should use hand sanitizer. Temperature checks and symptom screening are a part of many re-opening plans. Parents could do this at home. Students and parents should be taught how to properly wear face coverings and how to maintain them. School staff should be provided with adequate protective equipment.
(Jane Northrop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)