San Joaquin County moving into red — the second highest of a four-tier system designating responses to the COVID-19 pandemic based on the level of severity on a county-by-county basis — has opened the door for the possible return of seventh through 12th graders to classrooms in Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon.
When the return to campuses happen for seventh through 12th graders they will have different parameters than for transitional kindergarten through sixth graders as well as for cohorts, of small groupings of targeted students academically at risk due to special needs, homelessness, and English as a Second Language concerns.
“We are going through the return of students slowly and intentionally,” stressed Manteca Unified Community Outreach Coordinator Victoria Brunn.
Brunn said the district is pursuing such a course to assure staff and student health as well as to avoid students getting into a situation where they may end up going back and forth between distance learning and in-class learning.
Face masks for third graders through 12th graders, social distancing, sanitizing, personal hygiene, and self-screening will be mandatory for all three tracks the district is pursing to return students to school.
TK through sixth graders
The district has been granted a waiver by the San Joaquin Health Department to start bringing TK through sixth graders back to school sites.
The administration will present a plan on how to go about doing just that when the trustees meet on Tuesday. Once the board agrees to a specific path, the district has indicated they will have a rolling return of students likely starting with transitional kindergarten and kindergarten. Then, once they are sure protocols as outlined are being properly implemented additional grade levels will return.
The fact the district has been granted a waiver from TK-6 instead of relying on the ability to simply start reopening schools as allowed in the red tier, means if conditions put the county back into the highest tier that is purple they will not have to automatically cease in-person learning.
The waiver also allows 50 percent of the students to be on campus at one time. That would allow half of a TK thru 6th class to attend in-person instruction on Monday and Thursday while the other half would be on campus Tuesday and Friday.
On the days their classmates are on campus, the rest will be distance learning. On Wednesdays all students will be distance learning.
Seventh thru 12th graders
The red tier as established by the state allows for schools to reopen for some in-person learning.
Those with county waivers can reopen regardless of the tier. Also the cohorts or small learning groups aren’t affected as the state has allowed those to take place regardless independent of a need for the county to issue a waiver of the conditions spelled out in the four tiers.
San Joaquin County Public Health Director Dr. Maggie Park, as she is allowed to do under state law, has imposed an additional restriction for school re-openings to occur under the move to the red tier. She has ordered schools without waivers to wait until San Joaquin County has meet red tier criteria for two weeks before they can reopen.
Also, the state has not stipulated what “some” means in terms of student numbers. That is being left up to counties to determine. While it could mean 50 percent at a time, it could also mean a lower percentage in a classroom such as 25 percent in a nod to Centers for Disease Control determinations that older students are more susceptible to catching, transmitting, and getting sick from COVID-19.
Given the state is not allowing waivers for 7th through 12th graders, if San Joaquin County slips back into the purple tier those students would be barred from campuses. Meanwhile, those TK through 6th graders that are on campus due to waivers would still be able to be taught in-person.
The state carved out learning cohorts for the most academically at-risk students to allow them on campus in grouping of eight or less for targeted teaching.
These are typically K-12 students that in a normal school year would have been pulled out of classrooms for reading recovery, English as a Second Language and other programs targeting deficiencies as well as special education.
This covers those who have special needs, the homeless, and foster children among others.
When students do return
& if COVID creates issues
Besides social protocols and the issuance of refillable water bottles and several face masks to each student that are among $1.7 million of COVOD-19 safety improvements the district has spent money on so far, the district has rigid protocols in place aimed at protecting the health and welfare of staff and students.
Every student and staff member will be required to self-monitor every day before they can step on a campus. This will involve a just completed digital assessment platform that they must provide answers to questions about if they have a stuffed nose, cough, and similar issues.
Each person will have their temperatures taken daily as well.
If a student displays any symptom tied into COVID-19 they are first quarantined on campus and then at home. The other students in the class or cohort are secured and monitored. They could also be barred from returning to school for a set time period.
Should COVID-19 numbers go up in the county that would not lead to the closing of schools that have waivers or cohorts. That is not the case however for seventh through 12th graders.
At any time there is an outbreak at a school, however, that school site will be closed. That means among Manteca’s 34 campuses several or more could be closed due to COVID-19 due to an outbreak.
“It is why every third through 12th grader must wear a mask and must observe social distancing,” Brunn noted.
The district has a work infection prevention team that meets daily and involves people from child welfare services, risk management, operations, health, and other district departments to monitor developments and decide on a course of action. That team’s efforts will be stepped up even further as students return in a bid to make sure the district stays on top of COVID-19 concerns.
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