Schools Dazed

A student studies in a small cohort at Monte Vista Elementary School in Monterey, Monday, February 1, 2021. The cohorts are mostly made up of students who are children of staff or first responders, according to a school district representative.

Local school districts have been ready to re-open schools for in-person learning, but Covid-19 case rates in Monterey County keep pushing the reopening dates back. Now, countywide case rates dictate which schools will be able to reopen in California, and when.

On Jan. 14, the state Department of Public Health issued new guidelines for safe reopening; the old system of waivers is no more. That means districts like Carmel Unified that had obtained a waiver – but hadn’t yet reopened elementary schools – lost their window for in-person instruction for now. (CUSD was supposed to open Feb. 1.)

“The goal keeps changing and moving,” says Monterey County Office of Education spokesperson Jessica Hull. “It’s like building a plane while flying, then while you’re flying, you’re told, build a bus. And when the instructions come, they are in a different language.”

The new rules require the county’s case rate to be below 25 per 100,000 residents to open K-6 schools, and below 7 per 100,000 residents to open grades 7-12. As of Feb. 2, Monterey County is 52.3 cases per 100,000.

Gov. Gavin Newsom wants schools to reopen, and proposed a $2 billion plan to provide extra funding for Covid-19 testing and safety measures for schools that do so.

To reopen with those proposed funds, schools would have to comply with several requirements, such as testing staff and students at least once a week and transparent reporting of Covid-19 cases.

Schools that apply first will get more funding than ones that apply later. The last day to apply for the proposed funding to support reopening in mid-February was originally Feb. 1, but there is not yet a mechanism for schools to apply and the proposal is still under discussion.

On Jan. 27, the California Teachers Association sent a letter to Newsom saying members want to stick with online learning for 100 days in counties with high Covid case counts, and during that time create another plan to combat the spread of the virus and get teachers and staff immunized.

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