by Kimberly Rivers
In an effort to get kids back on campus, state and local education officials along with teachers, unions, district administrators and elected school boards are flushing out what a return to school will look like and are asking parents for diligence with a sprinkling of patience.
Vaccinations are not currently required for any student to attend school.
Every school district must abide by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidelines for students returning to campus. While districts in Ventura County are offering online learning, most families are hoping for as normal a year as possible for their children.
On Aug. 2, the CDPH issued guidelines effective immediately for all public and private schools in the state.
The stated “foundational principle of this guidance is that all students must have access to safe and full in-person instruction and to as much instructional time as possible.” Part of this is minimizing missed school days.
- Emphasizing vaccination for all who are eligible.
- Universal masking indoors; mask optional outside.
- Robust testing programs.
The evidence the CDPH is relying on demonstrates that physical distancing is not required, allowing a much more normal learning environment — albeit a masked one.
Mask up to stay in school
Districts are emphasizing the need to wear masks indoors as a vital way to ensure students can remain in school. As evidence continues to come out regarding the transmission methods of COVID-19, including the Delta variant, it’s understood that the virus is primarily transmitted by airborne transmission (aerosol) and less often by “droplets.”
Physical distancing is effective when droplet transmission is more common, whereas masks reduce both airborne and droplet transmission.
“Therefore, masks best promote both safety and in-person learning by reducing the need for physical distancing,” according to the CDPH.
In the event of a known exposure in the school setting, knowing that everyone wore a mask reduces the number of students needing to quarantine, helping to keep more kids in classrooms instead of isolated at home.
The CDPH notes, “Universal masking indoors in K-12 schools is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and by the CDC in their Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 schools (updated July 27, 2021).”
This approach of universal mask wearing regardless of vaccination status also addresses the likelihood of future variants and eases the strain on school staff who would otherwise have to track and enforce who must wear a mask or who has the option to go maskless. Stigma in a school setting has also been considered. If every child and adult must wear a mask, no one is singled out.
These guidelines and transmission conditions will be assessed continually and by Nov. 1 will determine whether a change to mask requirements is appropriate.
SAFETY MEASURES FOR K-12 SCHOOLS | Summary of guidelines. Families should confirm with their schools for specifics.
- All staff required to show proof of vaccination OR weekly testing with negative results.
- No vaccination requirement for students of any age.
- Students are required to wear masks indoors.
- Those exempted by medical condition must wear a non-restrictive alternative, such as a face shield. Exemptions are pursuant to state and federal guidelines.
- Adults must wear a mask indoors when in the same space as students.
- Masks are optional outdoors.
- Schools must have a process to provide face coverings to students who may not have one with them on campus.
- If students refuse to wear a mask, schools are encouraged to provide alternative learning options. State law requires independent study programs be offered.
- When a face mask is not appropriate, a face shield and drape can be used with physical distancing.
- Evidence shows that with universal masking, in-person indoor instruction does not require physical distancing to maintain a safe environment.
- Ventilation should be optimized for indoor spaces.
WHEN TO STAY HOME:
- When symptomatic with common COVID-19 indicators such as fever, cough, loss of taste or smell.
- Known exposure without mask wearing.
- A positive COVID test.
WHEN TO RETURN TO SCHOOL:
- After 24 hours have passed with no fever and other symptoms have improved.
- Negative test or note from a physician that symptoms are from another condition OR it has been 10 days since onset of symptoms.
Other recommendations include guidance for food service such as maximizing physical distancing while eating, particularly indoors, and trying to eat outside as much as possible.
Ventura County Office of Education virtual Q&A video on Aug. 16 regarding back to school policies is online at: https://zoom.us/rec/play/KGV5dc56fmGdWzOwnSYCO5uTXYOv93v8ghKOcFVag0vQlqUUdO8bqq1vybBhMaF0MHXXSTgkdJk3amp6.p33aRHkZebDk_JzJ .