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Walnut Creek Magazine

Contra Costa Begins Accepting Waiver Applications For In-Person Instruction

Aug 18, 2020 01:40PM ● By Pam Kessler

Just as students, parents, and teachers started to settle in and accept the realities of distance learning, public health officials announced today the possibility of granting waivers for in-person instruction. 

According to the press release issued by Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) in accordance with state guidelines, elementary school waivers may be granted "when requested by a local superintendent (or equivalent), in consultation with labor, parent, and community organizations. Local health officers must review local community epidemiological data, consider other public health interventions, and consult with the California Department of Public Health when considering a waiver request."

School districts must detail how they plan to safely conduct in-person classes and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Applications will go to the Contra Costa County Office of Education for an initial review, before being sent back to CCHS for further analysis.

ROADMAP TO SAFELY REOPENING FOR IN-PERSON INSTRUCTION:

A plan for testing students and staff with COVID symptoms and a plan for periodic testing of asymptomatic staff members.

Each school must identify a person to help CCHS with contact tracing efforts if there is a positive case on campus.

A schedule for cleaning and disinfecting shared surfaces regularly as well as a plan for how the use of shared surfaces will be minimized. 

Proper use of face coverings by students, teachers, and staff. 

Plan for how students will be kept in small, stable, groups with fixed membership that stay together for all activities (instruction, lunch, recess) and minimize/avoid contact with other groups.

Review by local and state officials will take approximately ten days. The state will make the final decision to approve or deny requests. Schools in counties such as Contra Costa that are on the state's COVID-19 monitoring list cannot reopen unless granted a waiver by local and state health officials. 

"We feel like we've reached a point where it makes sense to consider requests from elementary schools to reopen," said Dr. Chris Farnitano, health officer for Contra Costa County. "Our role will be to ensure that schools have a solid plan in place to protect students and staff and show us how they will work with the health department when there is a case to prevent further spread of the virus."

The state outlined the waiver process for elementary schools two weeks ago. CCHS did not immediately begin accepting waiver applications because of the increasing prevalence of COVID-19 in the community at the time. Since then, the situation has stabilized enough to begin reviewing school-waiver applications, said Dr. Farnitano. Case rates and COVID-related hospitalizations, for instance, have leveled off in August after spiking in July.

While school districts are invited to apply, waiver requests may not be granted if the plan does not meet state or local health requirements, or if data show worsening conditions in the community. Some districts may choose not to submit an application if they cannot meet the requirements outlined in local and state guidelines. Middle schools and high schools are not eligible for waivers.

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