School districts in less-populated California counties are moving ahead with plans for classroom instruction, albeit with face masks, hand-washing stations, socially distant seating and lots of hand sanitizer.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that most counties will start the school year online due to soaring coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. But rural counties in the central and northern parts of the state have seen little of the virus and can bring students and teachers back to campus.
Jaime Green, superintendent of Trinity Alps Unified in far Northern California, said he's planning to reopen school in a month for the district's 700 students. The county has had only two confirmed virus cases since the pandemic began, and Green said he's worried about the impact on students' mental health if they are isolated at home.
“We have bought gallons and gallons of hand sanitizer,” Green said, adding that school will be in session half-days for the first week so teachers and staff have ample time to assess and retool any procedures. “Any protocol the state's going to require, we are going to fund raise and do whatever we can to be back in school.”
Newsom said the state prefers for schools to resume in-person instruction when it's safe but that time isn't now for more than 30 of the state's 58 counties suffering a spike in virus cases, and they must meet strict criteria for reopening. For schools that can reopen their classrooms, all staff and students in grades 3 to 12 will be required to wear face coverings. Younger students will be encouraged but not required to wear masks.
In Lone Pine, a community on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains 200 miles (322 kilometers) north of Los Angeles, school officials are planning to return to classes after surveying teachers and parents. Patrick Traynor, superintendent of the 330-student Lone Pine Unified School District, said teachers agreed that distance learning wasn't optimal, and they won't return to it unless they must.
”We don't want to experience that lack of success compared to what we're used to experiencing," he said.
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But Traynor said they will be prepared to do so if the virus dictates.
In the spring, Traynor said they only had an independent study program when the pandemic brought school closures. It took about a month to get students the devices and Internet access needed for virtual instruction, something they're much better prepared to do now with a mapped out schedule for online classes and teachers' office hours, he said.
That preparation will be critical should the virus crop up in the community near scenic mountain peaks that typically draw tourists throughout the summer. Already, Traynor said the district had to cancel the third and final week of a summer school class held in a campus gymnasium after a staff member tested positive for the virus.
But the first choice is to return to school. Traynor said the district has stocked up on hand sanitizer, thermometers and masks for all students. But he recognizes that there have been cases with more testing and more mingling compared to the early days of the pandemic, and that under the state's guidance, if someone in a class tests positive, that class will shut down.
“I am just hoping we can hold off until the vaccine comes and the environment changes and we don't have to close,” he said.