Dozens of San Diego County Elementary Schools Apply for In-Person Reopening Waiver

As of Friday, 48 local schools had applied for a waiver to reopen; the county has a list of those applicants online

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Dozens of San Diego County elementary schools have applied for waivers that would allow them to reopen campuses for in-person instruction – even if the county remains on the state’s COVID-19 watch list.

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said Thursday that, so far, 48 local elementary schools had applied for the waiver, which was introduced earlier this month as an option for California K-6 schools.

“We are receiving and reviewing applications from elementary schools that are requesting a waiver,” Fletcher said. “We’re working with schools districts.”

The county is listing the schools that have applied for the waiver on its website, here. Fletcher said the list would be updated every morning.

Fletcher said those applications will be first reviewed by county public health experts. After that, they will be sent off to the state for further review and guidance. If the county doesn’t hear back in three days, then Fletcher said those applications would be approved.

The schools that are approved for the waiver will also be posted on the county’s website.

As of Thursday, Fletcher said none of the 48 schools on the application list had been submitted to the state or approved just yet. The schools that are approved would be allowed to reopen in-person learning, so long as their plan is consistent with state health guidelines.

The state says schools can apply for a waiver to reopen. NBC 7's Bridget Naso details what it entails.

California health officials first released those guidelines on Aug. 3 for elementary schools (K-6) to seek waivers that would allow them to offer in-person classroom instruction. With those guidelines came recommendations that local health officials not even consider that option in counties with the highest rates of coronavirus infection.

The state Department of Public Health released the guidelines for public, private and charter schools seeking permission from local health officers to resume in-person instruction if they are located in one of 38 counties that remain on a state watch list because of troubling COVID-19 increases. San Diego County is one of the 38, and together those counties contain most of the state’s population.

The waivers only apply for kindergarten to sixth grade because, according to health officials, students in that age range are less likely than older children to become infected or transmit coronavirus.

The state’s guidelines say, in part, that schools seeking waivers must have support from labor, parent and community organizations. Reopening plans must cover a raft of safety issues, from cleaning and disinfecting, to health screenings, social distancing and mask-wearing for staff and students. The ability to keep children in “small, stable” groups should be one qualification, according to the guidelines. Read more about the school waivers here.

There are 23 elementary school districts in San Diego County.

NBC 7 has been tracking how each school district in San Diego County plans to tackle the challenging 2020-2021 school year here.

Meanwhile, San Diego County does appear to be moving in the right direction in terms of COVID-19 case rates. On Thursday, the county – for a second consecutive day – remained below the state’s case rate threshold, which is no more than 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

County public health officials reported 96.5 cases on Thursday. On Wednesday, that metric was 94.1, which was the first time the case rate in San Diego County had dipped below 100 since the county was placed on California’s watch list on July 3.

“We’re making progress as a region, and we’re doing good,” Fletcher said.

“But we really do need to understand, this is a marathon; it is not a sprint,” he warned Thursday. “The finish line is not tomorrow, if our case counts are under 100. The finish line is getting our numbers down, keeping them down, and then working collaboratively to get as much of our life and society safely reopened in a manner and posture where we can keep our case count low.”

County public health officials Thursday reported 266 new COVID-19 cases in San Diego County, and seven new COVID-related deaths. That brings the county’s total number of COVID-19 cases to 33,659 and 615 deaths since county public health officials began tracking the virus on Feb. 14, 2020.

For the latest local COVID-19 numbers, click here.

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