With schools officially being permitted by public health to reopen campuses to in-person learning today, we understand parents, community members, and school employees may have questions about which schools are reopening, under what circumstances, and what might cause schools to close again.
"Each of the 42 districts and more than 300 charter and private schools is responsible for developing and implementing its own reopening plan," explained San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold. "Some schools, like those that have applied for waivers to reopen early, may be ready for in-person learning. Other schools have plans for a hybrid model or only distance learning for the semester. Each is different, but we know that reopening campuses will require a lot of planning, preparation, and expenses to keep students, families, and staff members safe."
Read on for answers to frequently asked questions about school reopening in San Diego County.
What are the state requirements for allowing schools to reopen for in-person instruction?
Under a system announced Aug. 28, every county in California is assigned to a tier based on its rate of new cases and positivity percentage. The new system contains four tiers: purple (widespread risk level), red (substantial risk level), orange (moderate risk level), and yellow (minimal risk level).
Schools in the purple tier aren’t permitted to reopen for in-person instruction, unless they receive a waiver from their local health department for TK-6 grades. Schools can reopen for in-person instruction once their county has been in the red tier for at least two weeks.
What tier is San Diego County in? When will school campuses be allowed to reopen for in-person instruction?
San Diego County is in the red tier. State and county public health have allowed San Diego County schools to reopen for in-person instruction beginning Sept. 1. Schools that choose to reopen must follow the state’s guidance for schools and school-based programs. Schools must establish and post a safe reopening plan online and in a place where public health officials, the students, staff, and the community can view it.
Will all San Diego County school campuses reopen for in-person instruction on Sept. 1?
No. Each of the 42 districts and more than 300 charter and private schools is responsible for developing and implementing its own reopening plan. Some schools, like those that have applied for waivers to reopen early, may be ready for in-person learning. Other schools have plans for a hybrid model or only distance learning for the semester.
Will schools have to close if the county moves into the purple tier?
According to the California Department of Public Health, schools should begin testing staff, or increase frequency of staff testing, but are not required to close.
What would make schools close, once reopened?
According to the California Department of Public Health, school closure may be appropriate when there are multiple cases in multiple cohorts at a school or when at least 5% of the total number of teachers/student/staff are cases within a 14-day period, depending on the size and physical layout of the school.
The local public health officer may also determine school closure is warranted for other reasons, including results from public health investigation or other local epidemiological data.
When would a school be allowed to reopen, after closure due to COVID-19 cases?
Schools would typically reopen after 14 days and the following have occurred:
- Cleaning and disinfection
- Public health investigation
- Consultation with the local public health department
What would make a district close? When could it reopen?
A superintendent should close a school district if 25% or more of schools in a district have closed due to COVID-19 within 14 days, and in consultation with the local public health department. Districts may typically reopen after 14 days, in consultation with local public health.
When campuses reopen, do students need to be tested for COVID-19?
There is no general testing requirement for students. The California Department of Public Health recommends daily visual wellness and symptoms checks prior to individuals entering campus.
When campuses reopen, do staff members need to be tested?
The California Department of Public Health guidance says school districts and schools should ensure that staff are tested periodically by their primary care provider or by referring teachers to a community testing site, as testing capacity permits and as practicable. Examples of recommended frequency include all staff being tested over two months, where 25% of staff are tested every two weeks, or 50% every month to rotate which staff members are tested over time.
What is public health’s role in reopening schools?
Local public health determines the timing and conditions for school to reopen based on guidance from the state on what health protective measures need to be implemented.
What is the role of the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) in reopening schools?
SDCOE is here to support districts and charter schools in following state and local guidelines. It does not order closures or reopening of schools, and does not dictate or mandate any kind of safety measures or educational programming.
In consultation with school district and charter school leaders, bargaining association and parent representatives, and experts in topics such as food service and special education, SDCOE has created materials to support districts and schools in reopening. The planning materials, which align with guidance from the state and federal governments, were also vetted by local public health officials.
Is SDCOE part of county government?
No. The San Diego County Office of Education is a separate agency with its own governing board.
Who makes decisions about reopening campuses?
Each of the 42 school districts and nearly 130 charter schools in the county is responsible for developing and implementing their own reopening plan.
Will physical distancing be required when campuses reopen?
SDCOE has no authority to require physical distancing or any other safety measures in schools. Guidance from the California Department of Public Health, which local public health has directed schools to follow, is that distancing is required for employees and is to be implemented “as practicable” for students. That allows school leaders flexibility when maintaining six feet of space between students may not be possible.
Will masks be required when campuses reopen?
Yes. The California Department of Public Health requires all children in 3rd grade or later to wear facial coverings.
Will students, staff, and visitors be screened for symptoms before coming on campus?
Yes. The California Department of Public Health requires daily screening for students, staff, and visitors prior to entry into school facilities.