California’s public schools are often the sole supporter of students and families, and have been long before COVID. Throughout this pandemic, we have learned, worked and grown together, moving towards an educational system many of us dreamed of for so long. It is no surprise that many Board of Education presidents from across the state are finding their school districts are in vastly similar positions.
The gradual lowering of cases was a result of our communities taking care of one another. The arrival of the vaccines was also a breakthrough that is now supporting children 12 years and up. All which result in a steady decline in California’s tier system. As we fully reopen in the fall we need clear guidance from the State Department of Public Health to better understand what the school year 2021–22 will look like.
Many of our families have been advocating and asking for clarity. And we hope to share that they are not alone. We are asking the California Department of Public Health to act. If we are to be able to move to a full reopening in the fall, we need to be given enough time to prepare to welcome all of our student’s back in a safe manner. We need final guidance in three areas.
First, cohorts. We have kept students in small groups as we have reopened because we understand the importance of this safety protocol. But many of our older students move through their classes mixing with other groups, and this guidance greatly impacts their school day. A full reopening means there will need to be mixing.
Second, ventilation. Many of our public school buildings were built during a much different time and we understand the fear our families have when returning to them during a pandemic. We will continue to open windows and monitor the rate of exchange but without clearer guidance, school districts are unsure what is enough. We also have to take into account the risk of California’s impending fire season on our students’ health. Will the state support us updating our buildings in a timely and efficient way?
Last, we have been asking the state for definitive advice on distancing. As COVID cases continue to decrease, it is unclear if social distancing will remain a need in the classroom as this affects the number of people who can be in one space at a time.
We assume our students will continue to wear masks long into the next school year. But there is no room for supposition when it comes to keeping families safe. And it is the role of the California Department of Public Health to offer definitive guidance as soon as possible to continue to offer assurance for not only our students and families, but our community at large.
To continue on the path to open schools, we need these things to be true. We cannot wait for guidance that could upend the plans we currently have in place. We will continue to work together, and look forward to building with all our partners at the State level to ensure this happens sooner rather than later. We do not want to reach a point of no return.
President Dr. April Oquenda, Hayward Unified School District
President Diana Craighead, Long Beach Unified School District
President Shanthi Gonzales, Oakland Unified School District
President Richard Barrera, San Diego Unified School District
President Gabriela López, San Francisco Unified School District
President Daina Lujan, South San Francisco Unified School District
President Héctor Camacho, San Mateo County Board of Education