Credit: Elizabeth Mee
Elizabeth Mee's classroom at Alliance College Ready school in Los Angeles sits empty after the coronavirus school closures.

Students should be encouraged but not required to use face coverings when California schools reopen for classroom instruction, according to a draft of “interim guidance” from the state obtained by EdSource.

However, all staff should use face coverings, according to the document, which sources familiar with it say was drawn up by the California Dept. of Public Health in collaboration with the governor’s office.

That is only one of the numerous issues addressed in the document on what schools need to take into account when reopening. The guidelines, it says, are based on “the best available public health data at this time, international best practices and the practical realities of managing school operations.”

School administrators around the state have been grappling with the multi-dimensional complexities of reopening schools in a system that serves over 6 million students, by far the largest enrollment in the nation.

What is striking about the guidance, at least in its draft form, is the flexibility that it would allow school districts on multiple issues. The document acknowledges the diversity of California’s districts and communities. It says that implementation of the guidance “will depend on local public health conditions” and “should be tailored for each setting,” taking into account “the needs of students and families.”

One of the biggest worries of school administrators is how to ensure social distancing in a school setting.  Significantly, the draft guidance does not require six-feet distancing for students, except for six feet between the teacher’s desk and their students. Rather, it calls “for maximizing space between seating, desks and bedding” and for schools to consider various ways “to establish separation of students through other means if practicable.” Those could include “six feet between desks, partitions between desks, markings on classroom floors to promote distancing or arranging desks in a way that minimizes face-to-face contact.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to announce his widely anticipated guidance on school re-openings soon, perhaps as early as Friday.   Jesse Melgar, Newsom’s press secretary, declined to comment on the draft guidance, but said “the administration is committed to continuing to work with all stakeholders to support the safe re-opening of schools.”

Terms like “to the extent practicable,” “as much as practical” and “to the extent possible” are dotted throughout the 10-page document.  Here’s one example: “Students should remain in the same space and in groups as small and consistent as practicable,” and schools should “keep the same students and teacher or staff with each group to the greatest extent practicable.”

In addition, schools should “limit communal activities where possible. If this is not possible, stagger use, properly space occupants and disinfect between uses.” It also calls on schools “to minimize congregate movement through hallways as much as practicable.” For example, schools should designate “more ways to enter and exit a campus,” and set up “staggered passing times when necessary, or when students cannot stay in one room.”

As for staff who become ill, schools should provide “flexible sick leave” — once again “to the extent practicable.”

The document seems to be responding to concerns raised by many school administrators about the  difficulties of having younger children wear masks, or maintaining social distance at all times in large middle and high schools where students have to move from one classroom to another throughout the school day.

Nearly a dozen district superintendents in Los Angeles County last week send Newsom and other officials a strongly worded letter saying that keeping students six feet apart was “impractical” and “unrealistic” to expect students, especially those with disabilities or very young children, to wear face coverings for an entire school day.

Regarding the controversial issue of masks, the draft interim guidance says “students should be encouraged to use cloth face coverings, especially in circumstances when physical distancing cannot be maintained.”

That said, the guidance also outlines daunting procedures that it recommends schools adopt. Students’ temperatures would need to be taken on arrival with “no-touch” thermometers, along with “visual wellness checks.” Students and staff would need to be questioned about whether they have experienced Covid-19 symptoms, or if anyone in their household has and they would need to be monitored throughout the day for signs of illness. Schools would need to be cleaned and disinfected daily, including door handles, sink handles, bathroom surfaces, drinking foundations, playground equipment and shared objects like toys, games and art supplies.

It encourages schools to introduce “fresh outdoor air as much as possible — at the same time making sure that opening windows doesn’t pose a safety or health risk by, for example, allowing pollens in or exacerbating asthma symptoms. It advises school district to check water systems that have been shut down for a long time to minimize the risk of Legionnaires’ disease and other water-related diseases.

The guidance, at least in its draft form, ducks the issue of what to do about school sports and extracurricular activities.   It does say that schools should limit gatherings to those where physical distancing is possible along with “proper hand hygiene.  Further advice on those issues “is forthcoming,” according to the document.

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  1. Tupac Shakur 1 week ago1 week ago

    How do I not have the right to refuse compulsory vaccinations for my kids going to school because it’s for the greater public good/health, but people think wearing a mask for the same reason violates their rights?

  2. George colby 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Forcing children to wear face masks is child abuse.

  3. Nana 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Really? My grandson has asthma. He will wear a mask, but a mask only protects others from him! If other students don’t wear masks, that would increase his chances of getting the virus. Additionally, his mom is a recent cancer survivor! If he gets Covid-19, his mom will likely get it too!

  4. Sharon 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I would never want children to be in school without a mask during COVID-19. Their mask protects others. With no mask, they are not protecting others. In our district 22% of students and/or their household have serious illnesses that they would be in danger of dying should they contract Covid-19. That would be a similar percent of staff. To me, this is a matter of life and death.

  5. Adien Norris 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Okay! so I’m a DeKalb High School student. I really things to be normal again so please don’t make us wear a mask in the school.

  6. Amy Vaughan 1 month ago1 month ago

    I am wondering how schools will re-open indoors without acknowledging that social distancing of 10 ft. and wearing face coverings for children 10 years and up will be critical to maintaining safety. The New England Journal of medicine has made it clear through a Harvard Study, indoor aerosolization of coronavirus, when simply breathed in, does not get passed through like the larger droplets and has been closely associated with the more serious SARS complications … Read More

    I am wondering how schools will re-open indoors without acknowledging that social distancing of 10 ft. and wearing face coverings for children 10 years and up will be critical to maintaining safety. The New England Journal of medicine has made it clear through a Harvard Study, indoor aerosolization of coronavirus, when simply breathed in, does not get passed through like the larger droplets and has been closely associated with the more serious SARS complications of Coronavirus in various age groups.

    The aerosolization exposure and viral load allows for the virus’s tiny micron particles to be introduced deep into the lungs by-passing the respiratory cilia (hairs) that are in the sinuses, tongue and throat. 45% of Americans currently have at least one diagnosed underlying medical condition and the student population is not exempt from this statistic. Large percentages of California’s student populations have asthma and diabetes. These two medical conditions are associated with higher risks of complications of the Coronavirus..

    If even one student is asymptomatic in one room for 45 minutes and then goes into the next room, etc. in a middle school environment that 1 infected asymptomatic student has the potential to infect 10-12 other students in one 7 hour school day. Masks are absolutely critical to the the mission of students of all ages not falling victim to a severe form of coronavirus simply because they were invited by their school district to attend a classroom the school district provided them without following the minimal standards set forth by the CDC. Let’s just get real here for a minute, is California proposing that they not require schools to minimize the spread of Coronavirus, but rather simply do the best they can? Gross negligence is seemingly what is on the table. Is this going to be one big experiment with our students, children and staff?

    In our Northern California, about 20% of people are masking when in public and of course, now after Memorial Day, there are more than double the positive cases reported by Eldorado County, with a two week rise in positive cases with an increase of about 2000 tests. Testing in EDC is now at 6000+, but the first 4000 tests began in Mid-March. So the doubling of positive cases in two weeks, while only increasing testing rates by 50% shows us it is now spreading twice as much as previous weeks and months and one case of a middle aged person in the ICU. Unless they can show a downward trend in our county, how can the school offer a plan such as this? The plan I described is plan B and the plan A is school as usual sans the larger group gatherings, neither proposal suggests wearing masks at all.

    Am I missing something or is hydroxychlorquine going to be made available as a prophylactic for public school students, staff and teachers? This is just wrong, why don’t districts simply spend their time and resources on planning to have another school year designed for students to stay at home where possible and only invite students into the classroom who only have that alternative. Wouldn’t that be the ethical decision, in terms of reducing in class participation so social distancing can be achieved.

    If a parent does not want their child over 10 to wear a mask, then school needs to be at home for 20-21. That way those families are free to express their liberty and rights to not care for others and my child does not have to deal with the school closing down every month because of positive cases residing at the school. This is surreal.

  7. Yasmine 1 month ago1 month ago

    6 ft. away from the "teacher's desk"? Teachers do not stay at their desks, they rotate from group to group, student to student. Are we supposed to change gloves when we move from student to student, etc.? What about teachers that have small classrooms? What would "small group" look like in that situation? If we have to teach remotely, are the districts going to provide proper desks and chairs for us? I can't continue … Read More

    6 ft. away from the “teacher’s desk”? Teachers do not stay at their desks, they rotate from group to group, student to student. Are we supposed to change gloves when we move from student to student, etc.? What about teachers that have small classrooms? What would “small group” look like in that situation?

    If we have to teach remotely, are the districts going to provide proper desks and chairs for us? I can’t continue to work from my sofa or coffee table without serious back and shoulder issues developing.

    Students don’t have to wear face masks? Really? How can this make the class/school a safer place for staff and students? And what about specialists who have multiple school sites where they serve students in OT or speech and language disabilities, etc.? They are more at risk of being exposed and then exposing others as they travel around the community, school to school, classroom to classroom, student to student, etc. Before giving the “green light” to return to the physical classroom, safety must outweigh all other concerns. If teaching from home, then we need to have some basic ergonomic furniture provided to us.

    Everyone’s talking about “equity” for students, what about equity for educators as well?

  8. Michael Yu 1 month ago1 month ago

    The teachers are vulnerable to be close to students not wearing face covering. It is only fair to require all students who choose not to wear face covering to strictly adhere to the social distancing. If that is not possible, then face covering should not be optional for anybody in the school. It should be mandatory just like if you would enter any grocery store.

  9. Francis 1 month ago1 month ago

    I can not believe that the school districts themselves are not thinking about the problem of this disease and put the students at risk if they are not going to wear masks. I do not think they will have the necessary staff to disinfect every part of where the children go.

  10. William 1 month ago1 month ago

    I believe that before we discuss masks or no masks, our students should all be tested as part of the normal registration process (it will be comforting to parents as well as students). Then repeated each quarter. Students who test positive will require Distant Learning until the next quarter. Students who test negative can choose to attend school with or without a mask (with social distancing required and adhere to, “to the extent possible”). Teachers … Read More

    I believe that before we discuss masks or no masks, our students should all be tested as part of the normal registration process (it will be comforting to parents as well as students). Then repeated each quarter. Students who test positive will require Distant Learning until the next quarter. Students who test negative can choose to attend school with or without a mask (with social distancing required and adhere to, “to the extent possible”).

    Teachers should always be required to wear a mask (for their own protection, as well as the students). Parents should be allowed to decide whether their student attends school remotely (Distant Learning) or in person. Sports activities already require a liability waiver, so the COVID-19 language could be easily added for protection to all. Stadium crowds are something else. Eventually students will adapt, they are resilient.

  11. LJV 1 month ago1 month ago

    Please understand, masks are not about protecting the person wearing them from catching the virus but preventing them from transmitting it. Unfortunately, we do know it is transmittable even if the person shows no symptoms of having an active infection. While children do "appear" to have a lower infection rate, we actually do not know if this is true. Also, although fairly rare, MSID does appear devastating. I work with individuals with disabilities … Read More

    Please understand, masks are not about protecting the person wearing them from catching the virus but preventing them from transmitting it. Unfortunately, we do know it is transmittable even if the person shows no symptoms of having an active infection. While children do “appear” to have a lower infection rate, we actually do not know if this is true. Also, although fairly rare, MSID does appear devastating. I work with individuals with disabilities who are a high risk population. Although it may be challenging to have them wear masks themselves, we as staff need to assist in protecting them.

  12. Child Psychologist 1 month ago1 month ago

    This is terrible. You cannot give kids this optionality. It creates an unnecessary dichotomy that will be informed by their sense of following rules or taking risk. It’s fine for staff but they cannot do this with kids. It will lead to bullying and infighting.

  13. LENISE RICHARDSON 1 month ago1 month ago

    After reading this article I do agree temperatures should be taken upon arrival of school along with keeping the campus clean throughout the day. Kel wrote a comment that I agree with: We parents should have a choice about our children education. I personally am not comfortable with having my child return back to school during this pandemic. My child and I really enjoyed the virtual online schooling and I would like to continue the … Read More

    After reading this article I do agree temperatures should be taken upon arrival of school along with keeping the campus clean throughout the day. Kel wrote a comment that I agree with: We parents should have a choice about our children education. I personally am not comfortable with having my child return back to school during this pandemic. My child and I really enjoyed the virtual online schooling and I would like to continue the online schooling. Parents should have choices.

  14. Kel 1 month ago1 month ago

    If parents are scared to send their kids to school, choose distant learning. That shouldn’t be forced on everyone just because some parents are scared. Masks and social distancing are ridiculous! Schools should open as normal and we as parents should have the choice to send them or to teach from home.

  15. Gail Contreras 1 month ago1 month ago

    Masks will be detrimental to the socialization of young people. Their mental stability is being crushed from the stress and fear mongering by adults and so called leaders. We need to make their education and childhood normal again and stop the psychological trauma. Suicide is up among young people this school policy will only make things worse. We have no idea the future damage being done.

  16. Linda 1 month ago1 month ago

    Please require masks. They are only protecting the people around you from your germs, so not effective unless everyone has one on. It should be taught that the mask is protecting your neighbor and you are wearing it to be kind and courteous to them.

    Americans don’t seem to understand this very well, or they just don’t care about anyone but themselves. Selfish.

  17. AC 1 month ago1 month ago

    Kids need to wear masks too. I understand the 6-ft rule is not realistic; therefore all people on campus should wear masks. This is coming from a teacher who is ready and willing to head back into the classroom in August, but we need to try our best to protect everyone and open up wisely.

  18. Ronda Leon 1 month ago1 month ago

    Our students need to be kids. The numbers do not merit this type of nonsense. Children affected are near zero. It is the flu, people. Get a grip. Resume our children’s education without restrictions. Teach them to be clean and healthy. Anything else is fear-mongering.

  19. Jill Coultas 1 month ago1 month ago

    I am a parent of two grade school children. I agree with extra emphasis on cleanliness, but feel masks are overkill. I will gladly sign a waiver for my kids to have some normalcy.

  20. Sylvia M Dougharty 1 month ago1 month ago

    It is much to soon to send students back to class rooms. Without face masks, it puts everyone at risk. Even being in a small space isn’t safe. My son will stay in home school until there is a safer way and the counts are much lower. I can’t believe you would even putting them at risk.

  21. csalt 1 month ago1 month ago

    The only mask that stop COVID is the N95 mask. The other masks are just for show. There is no real way to stop the spread of virus in schools. Many infected people are asymptomatic, so the temperature checks will only catch those already showing symptoms. Disinfecting services should be done, but that will be at the end of the day, so within an hour of kids arriving, germs would be everywhere. There is … Read More

    The only mask that stop COVID is the N95 mask. The other masks are just for show.

    There is no real way to stop the spread of virus in schools. Many infected people are asymptomatic, so the temperature checks will only catch those already showing symptoms. Disinfecting services should be done, but that will be at the end of the day, so within an hour of kids arriving, germs would be everywhere.

    There is no way to get 30 kids in a room and keep any kind of distance. As a teacher for 20 years, I agree with the other comments I read about teachers. Many in the profession are in their 50s and not in great health. I think 99.9% of students would be fine even if they got it. Their problem would be teachers and the students taking virus home to parents and grandparents.

    That being said I think we have to reopen schools. The virtual school and distance learning are not effective for many of the kids, especially those from underprivileged families. Those kids often don’t have access to internet, computers, an educated family member who can and will help ensure they are working. Not to mention the social skills you learn, food, and other services that schools provide.

  22. J val 1 month ago1 month ago

    Please require masks

  23. Natalie Dunbar 1 month ago1 month ago

    Planning to reopen California schools while the infection rate is still increasing is alarming to me. With 3 kids of my own in elementary school (year-round), as young as one entering kindergarten I don’t understand the rush to do this. Distance learning should be practiced until we really get a handle on COVID-19. I don’t feel the necessary confidence to send my children to school in 6 weeks.

  24. Antonio Scordo 1 month ago1 month ago

    A 2018 survey put 18% of teachers over the age of 55. Many other teachers have health issues, or live with a spouse that has health issues. Additionally we are now seeing that kids can be affected and suffer because of COVID. I do not understand this rush to open schools. Schools should not open until a vaccine is available. Everyone needs protect teachers and students. I see posts all the … Read More

    A 2018 survey put 18% of teachers over the age of 55. Many other teachers have health issues, or live with a spouse that has health issues. Additionally we are now seeing that kids can be affected and suffer because of COVID.

    I do not understand this rush to open schools. Schools should not open until a vaccine is available. Everyone needs protect teachers and students. I see posts all the time about we need to open now because of kids mental wellbeing. How will it affect their mental well being when teachers get sick and die around them? When their peers get sick around them? When their peers suffer because they brought COVID home to mom, dad, grandma??

    Everyone will survive if schools do remote instruction until the vaccine is available. Not so, if schools reopen.

  25. Gail Contreras 1 month ago1 month ago

    Masks will be detrimental to the socialization of young people. Their mental stability is being crushed from the stress and fear mongering by adults and so called leaders. We need to make their education and childhood normal again and stop the psychological trauma.

    Suicide is up among young people this school policy will only make things worse. We have no idea the future damage being done.

    Replies

    • Merrilou George 1 month ago1 month ago

      Thank you!! Those who are worried about sending them to school can continue to home school. Students need to be back in school doing a regular day which includes socializing, sports, and club activities without their face covered. Little ones need to see their teachers’ smiling faces!! (Big kids too! As well as teachers seeing students’ faces!). Again, thank you for your post!

    • Demetrio 1 month ago1 month ago

      True. Matter of fact, the people less likely to be infected band die are youngsters. It’s statistically insignificant.

      • Amanda 1 month ago1 month ago

        Demetrio, thats great for them, but what about the teachers and staff around them? I work in special education, and my district has chosen for just us to go back to summer school fully in person. It’s not possible to social distance with these students, and they are the least likely to keep a mask on. The message I am receiving is to hell with the staff, parents’ desires come first.

  26. Francisca Salcedo 1 month ago1 month ago

    My son is currently in second grade and he has special needs. I think distance learning (with textbooks and opportunities for group activities) can work for 11th and 12th. graders, but not for younger students. Especially not for elementary school students or for those with disabilities.

  27. Melody Tuttle 1 month ago1 month ago

    If students are not wearing masks, then the teacher is not protected and as teachers are an older demographic, they are more at risk. In addition, students will also put fellow students and their families at risk. This is basically saying let everyone get sick until immunity eventually happens.

  28. Alicia 1 month ago1 month ago

    At least from this article, I sense a lot of ducking, It appears that it does not follow our current guidelines on face coverings or social distance. As a current middle school Special Ed teacher and former primary teacher, I am keenly aware of the issues dealing with these populations regarding safety. However, at least for the middle schoolers it sends the message that they no longer have to be careful. They already believe they … Read More

    At least from this article, I sense a lot of ducking, It appears that it does not follow our current guidelines on face coverings or social distance.

    As a current middle school Special Ed teacher and former primary teacher, I am keenly aware of the issues dealing with these populations regarding safety. However, at least for the middle schoolers it sends the message that they no longer have to be careful. They already believe they can’t get COVID-19. They are the ones vaping, already not social distancing, not covering up, and at the adolescent stage of questioning authority and we now leave safety up to them?

    They will be the most at risk of getting it in a mild form and carrying it to families, communities and staff. Sounds like like money-saving guidelines instead of life-saving guidelines.

  29. Christopher Chiang 1 month ago1 month ago

    Why do we (CDE+county health) focus so much on social distancing and less on masks? There are so many schools right now outside of the US where students joyfully interact with masks. Masks, reduced large gatherings, and regimented cleaning could all happen with school still feeling very joyful for kids. It's social distancing that forces class-size reductions that will create highly disruptive school schedules (rotations) and prevents any resemblance of normal child social behavior or … Read More

    Why do we (CDE+county health) focus so much on social distancing and less on masks? There are so many schools right now outside of the US where students joyfully interact with masks. Masks, reduced large gatherings, and regimented cleaning could all happen with school still feeling very joyful for kids. It’s social distancing that forces class-size reductions that will create highly disruptive school schedules (rotations) and prevents any resemblance of normal child social behavior or instruction.

    I’ll feel safer in a classroom with twice as many students in masks than a classroom with half as many students without masks. Look at schools in Taiwan to see what we are denying our own students: https://www.facebook.com/pg/taipeiamericanschool/photos/

    Replies

    • cynthia martin 1 month ago1 month ago

      Thank you for sharing the photo link; as a middle school teacher, I agree wholeheartedly! We can teach better lessons about kindness, consideration, and community responsibility with simply enforcing what health officials agree is a prudent step – just wear a face mask to prevent transmitting a (possibly unknown) infection to others!

      We do not need to take away the experience of social interaction, but middle school students are old enough to follow these guidelines.