California health officials released guidelines Monday for elementary schools to seek waivers that would allow them to offer classroom instruction, but recommended 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 health officials say those students are less likely than older children to become infected or transmit coronavirus.
However, the state says districts shouldn’t be considered for waivers if their counties have had more than 200 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people over two weeks, which is twice the limit that will land county's on the state's watch list. San Diego County has reported a 14-day case rate above 100 but below 200 for at least the last seven days. Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and 10 other counties have also reported case rates below 200.
San Diego County does, however, remain on the state's watch list due to its shortfalls in maintaining community outbreaks and investigating positive patients' close contacts.
California schools closed down in mid-March as the coronavirus surged. Some larger districts struggled to provide off-campus instruction for their students but parents and teachers have voiced safety concerns about returning to classrooms in the midst of the pandemic.
Among other things, the state’s guidelines say schools seeking waivers must have support from labor, parent and community organizations.
The state guidelines say 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.
“COVID-19 continues to spread in California, and to help slow transmission we must focus on basic public health guidelines to protect our families, our communities, and our students from the virus,” Dr. Sonia Angell, the state’s public health officer and head of the public health department, said in a statement. “Today’s guidance ensures that critical public health measures are in place to reduce risk in a number of educational and youth settings.”
California also issued guidelines Monday for youth sports programs that effectively bar competitions, tournaments and assemblies by school teams and club and recreational teams.
The concern is that they require close contact or promote congregating among young people, parents and coaches.
Practices and conditioning will be limited and ideally should be held outdoors, the guidelines state. Permitted exercises are for building individual skills, such as running drills and body-weight exercises.
Last month, the California Interscholastic Federation, which governs high school athletics, announced that the fall sports season would be pushed back to 2021.