MONTEREY — School districts in Monterey County have been given the green light to submit their plans to reopen for in-class learning for students in kindergarten through sixth grade after falling COVID-19 cases in the county dropped below a benchmark infection rate.
Monterey County’s adjusted case rate on Tuesday fell below 25 cases per 100,000 residents, which meets the level outlined in California’s Reopening In-Person Instruction Framework and Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools in California, 2020-2021 School Year to allow K-6 schools to reopen to in-person instruction.
On Wednesday, the number of new cases in the county was among the lowest since last summer. While the status is at K-6 now, if the caseload falls farther then additional in-person learning will be allowed.
A widely accepted scientific study, cited by the California Department of Public Health in its rationale for reopening, found children of elementary school age are less likely to contract SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, because of fewer ACE-2 receptors. ACE-2 receptors are basically the “doors” that allow the virus to enter cells where they then reproduce.
Older children in grades seven through 12 are more likely to spread the virus because their numbers of ACE-2 receptors are increased similar to those of adults. Consequently, older grade levels will have to wait until the county’s infection rate falls even more.
Most school districts have draft plans to safely reopen. They can be both comprehensive and exhaustive. Pacific Grove Unified School District’s safety plan, for example, runs 85 pages and covers everything from placing support staff behind plexiglass and adding more hand washing stations to retooling how students are dropped off and picked up.
Pacific Grove District Superintendent Ralph Porras did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Wednesday. But a draft reopening plan is posted on the district’s website at pgusd.org/Reopening-Plans/index.html.
Carmel Unified School District has a draft safety plan dated Oct. 10, 2020 posted on its website at https://bit.ly/2NDQoxf. Superintendent Trisha Dellis did not immediately return an email request for comment Wednesday.
Finalized safety plans will be submitted to the Monterey County Health Department and the California State Safe Schools for review. The Health Department and the state have seven business days to review and provide any feedback. The schools may reopen on the eighth business day if neither the local health department nor the state provide notification that the plan is unsafe.
“As each and every district, charter school and private school is unique, there will not be a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Monterey County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Deneen Guss. “Schools are carefully considering the safety of students and staff and will announce specific plans that meet their varied and individualized needs.”
Some Monterey County school districts have already begun opening for a limited number of students through two separate reopening frameworks allowed by the state. This includes school districts and private schools that applied for and received waivers to reopen for grades K-6.
In Monterey County, 18 waivers were granted and of those 13 have opened, said Jessica Hull, the communications and public relations officer for the Monterey County Office of Education. Waivers were granted to schools for several reasons, such as small class sizes, for example.
Students in special education classes will be allowed to return on Feb. 22 because they fit into what Monterey Peninsula School District Superintendent PK Diffenbaugh calls a small-cohort model, meaning students and teachers are likely to interact with only themselves.
“MPUSD is excited about the opportunity to bring students back to in-person instruction given the updated county metrics,” Diffenbaugh said. “We are actively working with our labor partners and stakeholders as outlined in the state’s guidance for reopening, including updating our Guidance Checklist and Reopening Guide to submit to the county health department and state for review.
“Once this process is complete and we receive necessary approval, we plan on safely reopening beginning at the elementary level,” he added. For a more in-depth look at MPUSD’s plans, see https://bit.ly/3s5HbNw.
When students return, one of the safety measures will be to maintain a 6-foot distance between students. That will cut down on the capacity of classrooms, so schools are looking at various ways to accommodate the number of students that may return.
Schools could use a staggered schedule where some students will attend in the morning and others in the afternoon. Another possibility would be to have students attend on different days of the week.
“We recognize that people have passionate feelings on both sides of the school reopening issue, and we want nothing more than to get students safely back to class,” said Guss. “School district leaders are working with their school community to develop reopening plans that allow schools to open in the most responsible and safest manner.”
For more information regarding school reopenings, visit schools.covid19.ca.gov.
Contributed by local news sources