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Gov. Gavin Newsom didn’t mention it in his hour-long press conference on Friday, but new state guidelines banning in-school instruction in counties on a monitoring list for coronavirus infections includes a waiver provision that could exempt elementary schools.

On Friday, hours after Newsom released his guidelines, Santa Clara County’s superintendent of public schools and the director of public health sent out a letter inviting public and private school officials to apply for the waiver.

“The County Public Health Department and Santa Clara County Office of Education strongly encourages elementary schools to follow this process so that they can safely resume in-person instruction this fall,” said the letter signed by county Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan and Dr. Sarah Cody, director of the county’s public health department.

Other county superintendents reported getting many questions about possible waivers over the weekend.

“The waiver provision in the guidance is generating a lot of attention around the state,” said Edgar Zazueta, senior director of policy and government relations for the Association of California School Administrators.

Cody and other county health officers would have the authority to grant the waiver after consulting with the California Department of Public Health, according to the wording, which can be found as a footnote in a 5-page “framework” for reopening in-person learning for K-12 schools that was released on Friday.

The waiver provision was not mentioned in the 19-page Covid-19 Industry Guidance: Schools and Schools-Based Programs, also released on Friday, nor in a press release from Newsom’s office. When asked about it during a press conference on Monday, Newsom acknowledged a waiver would be possible but did not elaborate.

More than 30 of California’s 58 counties, encompassing nearly all the state’s urban and suburban counties, are on the watch list, which requires that they close bars, malls and indoor restaurants, along with in-person school instruction, for a minimum of 14 days. Counties could come off the list only if their coronavirus data fell below a number of benchmarks, including rates of infection, transmission and hospitalization. A waiver would permit at least some elementary school children, perhaps in small groups, to attend schools during that period if they follow the state’s safety guidelines.

The footnote mentioning the waiver opportunity does not elaborate on which conditions must be met before a county health officer could allow in-person instruction. It reads as follows: A waiver of these criteria may be granted by the local health officer for elementary schools to open for in-person instruction. A waiver may only be granted if one is requested by the superintendent (or equivalent for charter or private schools), 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.

What’s not clear is whether “consultation” means that opposition from teachers unions would prevent a superintendent from seeking a waiver. The California Teachers Association has stated that a large majority of teachers would not return to school until conditions are safe.

During the webinar explaining the guidelines Monday, newly-appointed California State Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said that her office would put in place by the end of the week the process by which county health officers could determine if local Covid-19 data and safety measures, including protective equipment at school and the availability of testing, would permit a waiver. She said that the waiver would apply to K-8 school districts.

Along with perhaps some school districts, charter schools and private schools in Santa Clara County, which includes 19 districts in San Jose, rural elementary districts in counties on the monitoring list might be the first in line.

“I do think we will have candidates,” said Michael Hulsizer, chief deputy for governmental affairs for the superintendent of schools in Kern County. “The metrics in rural districts are not the same countywide or, in Bakersfield.” A week before the new state guidelines were announced, about a third of districts in the county were considering a hybrid form of instruction, including some in-school instruction. Some of these might be interested, perhaps initially on a smaller scale, he said.

In encouraging districts to consider a waiver, Dewan and Cody emphasized that “based on the current best available scientific evidence,” the risks that children under 12 would transmit the coronavirus to adults and become infected themselves would be low, compared with other older children and adults. And they wrote that in-person instruction is “academically and socially critical for younger students” — and especially so for lower- income students who are “particularly harmed” by a lack it.

Dewan said in an interview Sunday that her letter “was not at all an effort to circumvent or undermine” the new state regulations or to return to full in-person instruction. But many districts have been considering in-school learning centers to supplement distance learning for small groups of “high-needs students.”

That might be one possibility, she said. Districts would set their own priorities, which could include students who have lacked computers and internet access at home, homeless and foster children and students with disabilities. Any permission for in-school instruction “would not be a waiver of safety requirements by any stretch and would require full adherence” to the new state rules on masks and social distancing, she said.

“There is a question what the provision’s intent is,” Zazueta said. “Is it aimed at allowing small groups for targeted in-person instruction or to give communities within a county a pathway to open up, even if the county is on the monitoring list?”

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  1. JL 1 day ago1 day ago

    Thank you for this great article. This virus has really changed the world in such a short period of time; we’re all trying to catch up.

  2. Elaine West 1 month ago1 month ago

    My grandson goes to a private Christian school. They have done all the requirements to get an exemption. But the forms needed to file for the exemption hasn’t been available. Do you know they can be found?

  3. Jennifer Thomas 2 months ago2 months ago

    Thank you for the excellent article. Here's my situation and question: The adminstration/board of a small private school claim they can legally open without a waiver because they are in the process of applying for one. Are they right about this? Also they plan to open the campus to 7th-12th grade students as well as K-6. Although I understand the school's desire to do this (half the families … Read More

    Thank you for the excellent article. Here’s my situation and question: The adminstration/board of a small private school claim they can legally open without a waiver because they are in the process of applying for one. Are they right about this? Also they plan to open the campus to 7th-12th grade students as well as K-6. Although I understand the school’s desire to do this (half the families say they’ll pull out if the school goes to distance learning), I’m concerned about the legality as well as the safety of the school’s plans. Can you provide some illumination here? Many thanks.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 2 months ago2 months ago

      Jennifer,
      I see nothing in the guidance that the California Department of Public Health issued last night that would permit what the school intends to do.

  4. spri tekk 2 months ago2 months ago

    Does anyone know if there is a list or database of schools that have applied for waivers? And how will the county evaluate sources of parent and community input? My school has said that parents are in favor of opening, but this is from a survey done in June.

    Replies

    • Alex 2 months ago2 months ago

      Great question. The waiver process should be transparent and not done in secret!

    • BF 2 months ago2 months ago

      All I have been able to find out is that schools have not even been able to submit a request yet. Supposedly the state is releasing a checklist that districts have to complete before they can submit it to the County office of Education. My understanding is only after the County Office of Ed reviews it will it be submitted to the Health Department for the final sign-off. If there is more to this … Read More

      All I have been able to find out is that schools have not even been able to submit a request yet. Supposedly the state is releasing a checklist that districts have to complete before they can submit it to the County office of Education. My understanding is only after the County Office of Ed reviews it will it be submitted to the Health Department for the final sign-off. If there is more to this process than I know, I would appreciate being informed about it.

  5. BF 2 months ago2 months ago

    Are there any updates on this?

    I would like to hear an update, as I heard the state is now releasing a “checklist” which will guide the waiver process. Do you have a copy of this “checklist”?

    Replies

    • Alex 2 months ago2 months ago

      I’d appreciate an update too. The first article was extremely informative!

  6. Demetrio 2 months ago2 months ago

    Ridiculous. A county where some schools are given waivers and others not would create even more confusion. Plus, the virus would not respect district borders.

  7. R 2 months ago2 months ago

    Our school in Alameda County had multiple kids with a respiratory “flu” last year unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Even teachers were baffled. Multiple cases of pneumonia and higher fever (103-104) that lasted for 2-3 days. It was passed around for over a month, maybe 2 or 3. If parents got ill (and not many of them did), they were out of commission for 2-4 weeks. This was all happening several weeks before news of … Read More

    Our school in Alameda County had multiple kids with a respiratory “flu” last year unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Even teachers were baffled. Multiple cases of pneumonia and higher fever (103-104) that lasted for 2-3 days. It was passed around for over a month, maybe 2 or 3. If parents got ill (and not many of them did), they were out of commission for 2-4 weeks. This was all happening several weeks before news of Wuhan came out. I believe this was corona. Everyone survived. I am shocked at the apparent unconscious drive to eradicate corona. It is everywhere. Stealing a year or two of social connection and learning from my kids at never repeatable developmental stages to finally acknowledge this eventuality is sad.

    I like the model of another state; they sent questionnaires home to parents and asked what they were comfortable with, and are able to open based on meeting guidelines and parental choice for in-person learning.

  8. Virginia 2 months ago2 months ago

    Would parents need to sign a wavier if your children have health conditions knowing they they are the most vulnerable to this disease?

  9. L 2 months ago2 months ago

    I would love to see some data on this. I have heard that the waiver request of couple of small private schools in Alameda county were denied.

    Is there a way to see data on which schools have applied and what the result was? Is this public data?

  10. Cal 2 months ago2 months ago

    This is really worrying to me as a parent - our current school policy is to return full-time in the fall, 5 days a week, masks optional, with no school-based option for learning from home due to financial and other limitations. I don't feel it is safe for my children to return to school given the escalating cases of covid-19 in Orange County. I think the school may be requesting a waiver. I wish there … Read More

    This is really worrying to me as a parent – our current school policy is to return full-time in the fall, 5 days a week, masks optional, with no school-based option for learning from home due to financial and other limitations. I don’t feel it is safe for my children to return to school given the escalating cases of covid-19 in Orange County. I think the school may be requesting a waiver. I wish there were specific guidelines as to what qualifies a school to be granted this waiver so it was clear to everyone.

    Also, I believe the “case count,” which partly determines which California counties are being placed on the watch list, are under-counting the actual number of Covid-19 cases in OC due to delayed test results, and because positive cases are actually counted using their “episode date” which is “the earliest date that the case can be known to have had the infection.” Therefore, not all reported positive cases are falling into the two week window (with a three-day lag) which determines this “case count.”

  11. Leslie Erickson 2 months ago2 months ago

    Thank you!!!!

  12. Lei Levi 2 months ago2 months ago

    After sending this article to Berkeley Unified School District asking if they had requested waiver, I got a very discouraging response. I'm hoping BUSD will collaborate with parents and their labor partners to come up with equitable solutions. This waiver is an out for private schools even though Newsom's announcement appeared to be shutting all possibility of in-school instruction for both private and public. We need to start exploring real solutions … Read More

    After sending this article to Berkeley Unified School District asking if they had requested waiver, I got a very discouraging response. I’m hoping BUSD will collaborate with parents and their labor partners to come up with equitable solutions. This waiver is an out for private schools even though Newsom’s announcement appeared to be shutting all possibility of in-school instruction for both private and public. We need to start exploring real solutions since studies and experience have shown Distant Learning is not a replacement for the classroom. Why not outdoor classrooms? They did it during 1918 pandemic!

  13. Alex 2 months ago2 months ago

    This seems extremely reckless. What a well-written article, though. Thanks for pointing out that the waiver is not advertised. The waiver seems to defeat the entire purpose of the Governor’s order to delay the reopening of schools in high-risk counties. Is it safe to assume that my children’s school haven’t applied for a waiver, since consulting with parents appears to be a prerequisite to applying?

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 2 months ago2 months ago

      Alex, I wouldn’t assume the superintendent or principal wouldn’t apply anyway, but the county superintendent will be looking for evidence that parents were part consulted before granting a waiver.

      • Alex 2 months ago2 months ago

        Thanks for the input. I hope you’re right, and that the county superintendent and the county health official will both look for evidence that parents or parent groups were consulted, in addition to the other groups that must be consulted. Hopefully, these specifics will be detailed thoroughly in the waiver guidance the state promised to finalize by the end of this week.

  14. alice 2 months ago2 months ago

    Good to know! I have a charter school which wants to have staff at the school site, conducting distance learning for students. Staff only, using social distancing and working in clean, isolated classrooms. We weren’t sure how to do this as there appears no difference in regulations for “schools” and “school based programs”. A waiver is surely a safe answer to remain in compliance.

  15. Cindy 2 months ago2 months ago

    If you disagree with sending our vulnerable student or educator populations as guinea pigs into schools located within virus hot spots, I urge you to contact your local county health department officials, and make your opinions known. My district applied for a waiver to send back special education students and staff without consulting with parent or staff stakeholders.

  16. Don DeLair 2 months ago2 months ago

    We are a Preschool through 8th grade school. As we wait for the waiver to be available, we called Riverside County Licensing and have received approval to put our Kindergarten under the umbrella of our Preschool. It was a quick and simply process. At least those students can return to school full-time. Small piece of good news amidst the craziness.

  17. Josephine Brinkman 2 months ago2 months ago

    I advise parents, guardians and students to read as much information online that they can find to educate themselves about how deadly this pandemic is. Maybe then, people would understand that this is not something we can fight against by protesting. The pandemic is here and people need to do all they can to stay home, stay connected, and stay well until we have a vaccine and the numbers decrease. Read the … Read More

    I advise parents, guardians and students to read as much information online that they can find to educate themselves about how deadly this pandemic is. Maybe then, people would understand that this is not something we can fight against by protesting. The pandemic is here and people need to do all they can to stay home, stay connected, and stay well until we have a vaccine and the numbers decrease. Read the newspapers every day, see what is happening across the world. That is why it is called a pandemic.

    Replies

    • Kimmy B 2 months ago2 months ago

      We are well informed and not scared. I don’t want to teach my kids to abandon any sense of independent thought and be a scared little sheep.

  18. Lucy 2 months ago2 months ago

    Hello, thank you for this article. Are there any more updates on the waiver process that you can share?

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 2 months ago2 months ago

      None, unless others are aware of additional information, Lucy.

      • L 2 months ago2 months ago

        Thank you.

        I think this is a great option for small schools, especially private.

        If preschools, daycares are opening, why shouldn’t a small school if they can follow the guidelines to a tee?

        What I’m seeing now is businesses starting to create programs described as “distance learning support” with a staff and 12-15 students. The irony is that some of these are even using empty public school classroom space!

  19. alex 2 months ago2 months ago

    I appreciate the info both in article and comments and am eager to get my tiny private k-3 school to apply. I just sent waiver question to the LA County School Superintendent. Please keep us updated, thanks!

  20. Pat 2 months ago2 months ago

    Do you happen to know if there is guidance for in person Pre-K, as I noticed this waiver is for K-12 institutions. If not, who would be the administrative body one would contact to see if Pre-k schools have an opportunity for a waiver?

  21. Judi Burle 2 months ago2 months ago

    If it is not safe for anyone to return to in-person learning at school sites in a monitor-list county, why is it safe for students, families and staff at elementary schools? Current research is saying kids 10 and above transmit COVID at the same rate as adults. And all elementary school students return to the community after school hours, where COVID is out of control. Of course students need in-person learning. They also need to … Read More

    If it is not safe for anyone to return to in-person learning at school sites in a monitor-list county, why is it safe for students, families and staff at elementary schools? Current research is saying kids 10 and above transmit COVID at the same rate as adults. And all elementary school students return to the community after school hours, where COVID is out of control. Of course students need in-person learning. They also need to stay alive. The State needs to rescind this.

    Replies

    • Brooke 2 months ago2 months ago

      I absolutely agree with you. I hope that my daughter’s school (private) chooses to go with online learning the first semester. Unfortunately, as of Monday, they are pushing for a 5x week, full day schedule. Either way, we are opting to keep her home, but their option for the “stay at home plan” is only a quarter, not a semester. We will see what everything is like by October, I suppose.

  22. Todd Maddison 2 months ago2 months ago

    Will be interesting to see how this "consultation" is defined. The wording says "labor, parent, and community organizations." What is a qualified "community organization?" The Boys and Girls Club? The Shriners? The Chamber of Commerce? Churches? And, when it comes to consultation, it appears "labor" and "parents" are weighted equally, so does that mean if, using numbers from my district, if the 1500 employees universally say "no" but if more than 1500 parents respond … Read More

    Will be interesting to see how this “consultation” is defined.

    The wording says “labor, parent, and community organizations.”

    What is a qualified “community organization?” The Boys and Girls Club? The Shriners? The Chamber of Commerce? Churches?

    And, when it comes to consultation, it appears “labor” and “parents” are weighted equally, so does that mean if, using numbers from my district, if the 1500 employees universally say “no” but if more than 1500 parents respond to a survey saying “yes”, and constitute the majority of that vote, does the Superintendent HAVE to ask for a waiver?

    If not, why not?

  23. Jennifer Peltzer 2 months ago2 months ago

    We are in Tulare County and have contacted our health department but no one knows about the waiver. How do we apply for it and who do we contact?
    Thank you!

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 2 months ago2 months ago

      If you’re a principal or leader of a private or charter schools, check with your county superintendent. If you’re a parent, encourage your superintendent to think about applying

  24. Rene 2 months ago2 months ago

    Where do we go to seek this waiver????? What web site, what agency? How long will it take to get?

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 2 months ago2 months ago

      Your superintendent or head of your charter school or private school must apply through the county superintendent of schools. The exact process will become clearer with guidance from the state Department of Public Health. State officials said the process should not be lengthy – that’s all that is known at this point.