Community Health Context
When can students and staff return to campus?
Given new circumstances created by COVID-19, LEAs must liaise with County Health Officers, understand criteria for opening and closing schools, and be mindful of special circumstances that may prevent some students from returning to campus and may lead others to require additional support when on campus. Additionally, LEAs must create Site-Specific Protection Plans (SSPP) for each school to ensure that resuming in-person instruction is safe for both students and staff.
Returning to in-person instruction safely will depend on a series of factors, some of which LEAs are not able to control, such as the state of public health in each individual California county. As public health conditions continue to evolve and new scientific evidence becomes available, LEAs will have to continue to adapt their plans to resume in-person instruction. Working collaboratively with local health officials and understanding public health guidance will help LEAs respond to the changing circumstances to ensure the safety of students and staff.
LEAs can return students to campus in one of three different ways:
If their county is eligible to reopen,
If they have been granted a waivers to reopen grades TK-6 (when their county is not yet cleared to re-open), or
If they choose to offer in-person limited small-group targeted support and services to small groups of students in ways that maintain the focus on health and safety and minimize transmission.
Establishing productive relationships with key partners with whom you will interact on an ongoing basis is key to ensuring the safety of your learning community. Since information is rapidly evolving and new information and guidance are coming out continuously as people learn more, having strong relationships with the people closest to the information will assure you can support your community in bringing students back on campus and keeping them safe.
A good way to start your health and safety planning is to establish productive relationships with key partners with whom you will interact on an ongoing basis to ensure the safety of your learning community.
- County Health Officer: Consult with your county health officer or their designated staff, who are best positioned to monitor and provide advice on local conditions. A directory of county health officers can be found here.
- County Offices of Education: Coordinate with county offices of education (COEs) for up-to-date local information and developments.
- Child Care/After School Partners: Ensure you also include child care and/or after school partners in your planning, as it is likely you will need to tightly coordinate services and logistics to ensure the least amount of student exposure to COVID-19.
As your LEA prepares to resume in-person instruction, it is important to understand current guidance on the safe reopening of schools and districts—and factors that may call on LEAs to re-close them to safeguard your community’s health.
Reopening for In-person Instruction:
- Schools can reopen for in-person instruction once their county has been in the Substantial (red) tier of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy for at least two weeks.
- Schools in the Widespread (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.
- CCEE’s flowchart on LEA options: How Can LEAs Return Students to Campus?
While children are a major driver of transmission for the viruses that cause the flu and the common cold, science suggests that the same is not true for the virus that causes COVID-19. Children (especially younger children) do not generally get as ill as adults (especially older people) when it comes to COVID-19. According to the current scientific understanding of how the virus spreads, young children are believed to spread a lower viral load and with less intensity. (This concept is explained in the video from above from Dr. Forman.) In addition, elementary schools are typically more easily adapted to small cohorts that do not mix with others in the school. For these reasons, a waiver is available for TK-6 that allows elementary schools to open for in-person instruction under specific conditions.
A waiver of the 14-day criterion may be granted by the local health officer, which allows elementary schools to open for in-person instruction under specific conditions. This elementary school waiver is applicable only for grades TK-6, even if the school includes additional grades. As of August 3, 2020, the process is as follows:
The Waiver Application Process:
- Applicant: A waiver may only be granted if one is requested by the district superintendent, private school principal/head of school, or executive director of a charter school.
- Form: The applicant must submit to the local health officer (LHO) a waiver application form that the LHO provides.
- Consultation: The application must include evidence of consultation with labor, parent, and community organizations, and the applicant must sign an attestation confirming the names of the organizations and dates when they were consulted. If school staff are not represented by a labor organization, then the applicant must describe the process by which it consulted with school staff.
- Other Plan Contents: Plans must also address items described in CDPH’s Industry Guidance for Schools.
- Publication of Plans: The applicant must confirm publication of the elementary school reopening plans on the website of the local educational agency (or equivalent).
- Applying for A District: If applying on behalf of a school district, the applicant should submit a consolidated application and publish a plan for all elementary schools in the district that are seeking to reopen for in-person instruction.
- Applying for All Others: If applying for an independent, private, faith-based, or charter school, the applicant should submit an application and publish a plan for each school.
- Timeline: Applications and all supporting documents must be submitted to the LHO at least 14 days prior to the desired reopening date.
The Waiver Review Process:
- Case Threshold: CDPH recommends that a school should not be considered for a waiver to re-open in-person instruction if it is within a jurisdiction with more than 400 cases per 100,000 people (i.e., two times the threshold to be on the County Monitoring List).
- Other Factors: Local health officers are directed to consider specific factors in addition to the application, including whether in-person instruction can be provided in small, stable cohorts and the availability of testing resources.
- Consultation with CDPH: Following review, the LHO will consult with CDPH regarding whether to grant or deny the waiver application.
- Conditional Approval: LHOs may conditionally grant an application with limits on the number of elementary schools allowed to re-open or allow re-opening in phases to monitor for any impact on the community.
- CCEE’s flowchart on LEA options: How Can LEAs Return Students to Campus?
To provide supervision and care for students, including specialized services for students with disabilities and English learners, access to internet and devices for distance learning, and in-person support for at-risk and high-need students, schools otherwise prohibited from reopening for full in-person instruction can offer in-person services to small groups of students.
In-person Services to Small Groups: Schools otherwise prohibited from reopening for full in-person instruction can offer in-person services to small groups of students in ways that maintain health and safety to minimize transmission.
Schools Already Authorized to Reopen: Schools that have been authorized to reopen for in-person instruction (see Criteria for Reopening), including elementary schools operating pursuant to a waiver, must adhere to the industry guidance for K-12 Schools and any applicable order or directive of the local public health office.
Specialized and Targeted Support Services: Specialized services are determined by LEAs and include but are not limited to occupational therapy services, speech and language services, and other medical services, behavioral services, educational support services as part of a targeted intervention strategy or assessments, such as those related to English learner status, individualized educational programs and other required assessments.
Conditions for Early Return to In-Person Targeted Instruction: In-person targeted, specialized support and services in stable cohorts is permissible when the school is able to satisfy all of the conditions detailed in the Cohorting Guidance, including:
- Limiting cohort size
- Restricting cohort mixing
- Maintaining proper physical distancing, masking, cleaning and other safety measures
Approval Process: School officials are not required to receive express approval from the local health department for an early return to campus for targeted in-person instruction, but should develop and implement plans in collaboration with local health officials and school-based staff (including, if applicable, organized labor).
Other Local Public Health Directives: Schools and LEAs are required to adhere to any applicable, more restrictive local public health directive.
Reduced Number of Cohorts: The number of cohorts will depend on the school’s enrollment size and available building capacity. Local school officials – in collaboration with local health departments and school-based staff – should determine the number of cohorts that can be safely established to avoid interactions between cohorts. In general, given the need for physical distancing and separation of cohorts, the number of students on a given school site should generally not exceed 25% of the school’s enrollment size or available building capacity.
Cohorting Considerations: For more information on Cohorting and cohort mixing, please visit the Cohorts to Support Safe Learning section of this Health & Safety Guidebook.
Additional Cohort Size Limitations: Cohorts for small group in-person targeted support are limited to no more than 14 students, with no more than 2 supervising adults in a supervised environment, or a configuration of no more than 16 individuals total (children and youth or adults) in the cohort, which may include 1:1 aides for some students. The number of students and staff who make up a cohort should be based on student needs. Cohorts can – and often will – be smaller than 14, staffed by 1 or 2 consistent supervising adults who are responsible for coordinating their activities. The smaller the group, the less risk of spreading disease. As cohort groups increase in size, or as they have any contact with other cohorts, the risk of spreading disease increases.
Additional Space Limitations: Groups must be no larger than can be accommodated by the space available in the facility to provide at least 6 feet of distance between each person, including staff.
No Interactions With Other Cohorts: Supervising adults and students or 1:1 aides must not interact with other cohorts. This practice decreases opportunities for exposure to or transmission of the virus; facilitates more efficient contact tracing in the event of a positive case; and allows for targeted testing, quarantine, and isolation of a cohort instead of requiring the suspension of all such groups operating on a site in the event of a positive case or cluster of cases.
- For more on student cohorting and cohort mixing, visit the Cohorting sections on this Health and Safety Guidebook
- CCEE’s flowchart on LEA options: How Can LEAs Return Students to Campus?
As LEAs resume in-person instruction, it is reasonable to assume that not all students and staff will return to the school site at once due to unique circumstances. Schools should be prepared to offer distance learning for any student who would be put at risk by an in-person instructional model. Additionally, you should plan for cases that may warrant special attention when returning to in-person instruction.
- Students with Unique Circumstances Who Might Not Return to Campus: Students with a health condition, students with family members with a health condition, students who cohabitate or regularly interact with high-risk individuals, or are otherwise identified as “at-risk” by their parents or guardians, are students whose circumstances merit offering distance-learning in place of in-person learning.
- Staff with Unique Circumstances: LEAs will also need to navigate varying circumstances involving staff who have existing health conditions, are identified as “at-risk,” or who live with or regularly interact with individuals who are in one of those categories.
- Cases That May Require Special Attention When on Campus: Schools should develop a plan to further support students with access and functional needs who may be at increased risk of becoming infected or having unrecognized illness due to COVID-19. Examples include: students with limited mobility or who require prolonged and close contact with others, such as direct support providers and family members; individuals who have trouble understanding information or practicing preventive measures (handwashing, physical distancing); and individuals who may not be able to communicate symptoms of illness.
Under certain circumstances, schools and school districts may have to close in-person instruction again to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and safeguard your community’s health. Where schools are engaged in regular symptom checks, frequent testing and tracing, and quarantining whenever needed – and where they have carefully managed cohorts that minimize school-wide interactions — cases of infected individuals should be able to be dealt with rapidly without closures. However, there may be times where schools need to be re-closed after they have opened. Below are the criteria that will guide new school and district closures.
- Schools Re-closing for In-person Instruction: While a school may be located within a district that has reopened, closure of an individual school within that district may be appropriate under one of these conditions:
- Multiple Cases in Multiple Cohorts: There are multiple cases in multiple cohorts at a school.
- 5% of Staff/Students Test Positive within 14 Days: At least 5 percent of the combined teachers, students, and staff test positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day period, depending on the size and physical layout of the school. (For more information on testing, visit the Testing for COVID-19 section.)
- Local Health Officer Decision: The local health officer may determine school closure is warranted for other reasons, including results from a public health investigation or other local epidemiological data.
- Schools Reopening for In-person Instruction Again After Closure: Schools may typically reopen after 14 days have elapsed and the following have occurred:
- Cleaning and disinfection
- Public health investigation
- Consultation with the local public health department
- Districts Closing for In-person Instruction: A superintendent should close all schools in a district if 25% or more of schools within it have closed due to COVID-19.
- Districts Reopening for In-person Instruction Again After Closure: Districts may typically reopen after 14 days, in consultation with the local public health department.
To address some of the child care challenges in their communities, some LEAs have created emergency child care centers on their campuses.
The San Diego County Office of Education team has created guiding documents for districts creating emergency child care centers to use.
- Get Informed: Start by watching this informational webinar.
- Decide Whether or Not to Move Forward:
- Stay Informed. Learn more by reviewing these frequently updated FAQs.
TOOLS AND RESOURCES
- The California Department of Public Health has detailed COVID-19 Guidance for Child Care Providers and Programs.
- SDCOE Emergency Child Care Toolkit
As part of your planning process, LEAs are mandated to coordinate with key staff to establish a written COVID-19 School Site-Specific Protection Plan (SSPP) for each school in your jurisdiction to safeguard the health of your community.
- Each SSPP Should Highlight How the Site Will:
- Perform a comprehensive risk assessment of all areas and tasks
- Designate a person at each school to implement the plan
- Train employees on how to limit the spread of COVID-19 and self-screen for symptoms that may necessitate them staying home
- Implement control measures and screenings
- Implement physical distancing guidelines
- Implement disinfecting protocols
- Design Protocols: While much of the plan will need to be customized for individual school sites, as part of the planning process the LEA should determine which protocols should be the same for all school sites.
- Incorporate SSPPs into Your Comprehensive School Safety Plan: After your LEA creates a comprehensive SSPP for each school site, SSPPs should be incorporated into your existing Comprehensive School Safety Plan.
- Make Your Plans Accessible: You should also ensure the SSPP is readily accessible on your website and/or at your school or office at a visible location where students, staff, and visitors can view it (without the need to touch it).
- Continually Reassess and Improve: Your LEA should continually reassess and improve protocols by investigating any cases of COVID-19 and updating plans as needed with lessons learned or public health best practices.
- Use Marin COE’s School Site-Specific Protection Plan (SSPP) template as a starting point to build your own plan.
- The Parabola Project’s progress tracker may help you build a plan.
More than ever, LEAs will be called to communicate well with stakeholders. As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves and changes the way LEAs must operate, school systems need their leaders to communicate well and frequently so that stakeholders understand the reasons for the many decisions that will be made. The 2020-2021 school year will require difficult decisions and trade-offs. Providing clear, timely information to staff, families, and community stakeholders can ensure they remain partners throughout the school year.
- Make students, staff, and families partners in decision-making: Students, staff and families have important feedback to share about their remote learning experiences in spring 2020 and their needs for the 2020-2021 school year. To be true partners, they need the opportunity to share that feedback, offer input on critical decisions, and learn how their feedback was used in making decisions. Consider spending time ensuring two-way communication is in place between LEAs and stakeholders.
- Have Pre-written Letters Ready: To be nimbler in responding to changing circumstances, have letters that are ready to use that you can use in case of a sudden school closure, a local outbreak, or a return to in-person instruction. (See samples below.)
- Communicate Plans and Protocols to Staff: Train and communicate with staff and representatives about the plan. Communicate all protocols to staff to ensure they are up to date on the latest policies and procedures.
- Provide Key HR Information to Staff: Include applicable information for staff regarding labor laws, disability insurance, paid family leave and unemployment insurance. See additional information on government programs supporting sick leave and worker’s compensation for COVID-19, including sick leave rights under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and employees’ rights to workers’ compensation benefits and presumption of the work-relatedness of COVID-19 pursuant to the Governor’s Executive Order N-62-20, while that Order is in effect.
Students and Families
- Share District-wide Protocols: Consider sharing information on district-wide plans and protocols with families in advance of key dates to ensure a wider reach.
- Share Public Health Information: Consider providing links to or cite credible information from established and reliable sources such as the California Department of Public Health, the California Department of Education, the official California State COVID-19 website, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Individual School-Site Status: Consider sharing with your community the status of individual school(s), along with directions for parents, families, and caregivers on how to find more information.
- Ensure Access to the Information: Consider using multiple modalities, languages, and formats to reach caregivers and community members in their native languages. In addition to your website, consider including phone, text, social media, or in-person communication at pick-ups.
- Post Helpful Signage: Consider posting signage at each public entrance of each site to inform all students, staff and visitors that they should:
- Avoid entering or using the facility if they have COVID-19 symptoms;
- Maintain a minimum six-foot distance from one another;
- Sneeze and cough into a cloth or tissue or, if not available, into one’s elbow;
- Wear face coverings, as appropriate; and
- Do not shake hands or engage in any unnecessary physical contact.
- Sample letters for various scenarios ranging from local closures to cases on campus to reopening are available from SDCOE and from LACOE.
- Sample social media posts and visuals from LACOE.
- Sample social media posts, voice messages, web copy, and situational responses are available for free from this national communication firm. Make sure to edit sample text provided to align with current guidelines and state mandates.
- LACOE’s Strategic Communications Guide for the 2020-21 School Year (PPT)
- LACOE’s Communications Toolkit for Reopening Schools
- CCEE’s K12 Continuity of Learning Playbooks Communication Section
- Sample School Handbook from Livermore School District
- School Reopening Guidebook from Poway Unified
- Fallbrook Union ESD Reopening Plan on powerpoint
- County of San Diego School Reopening infographic
- CASEL’s SEL Roadmap for Reopening School
- Back-to-school surveys created by Panorama
- Measures of social, emotional, and academic well-being created by California’s CORE Districts
For more information about how this tool was created and answers to other questions, see the FAQ section.