15 Marin County schools qualify to reopen for in-person instruction

New California guidelines are allowing some schools to reopen next week during the pandemic provided they are granted waivers by county health officials and meet strict guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

"It's been a long five and a half months since school closed and we're thrilled to be going back," said Jenny Novack, a Kentfield resident and mother of two children.

Like many parents, Jenny Novack knows heading back to school next week won't be going back to normal. She says they have a stack of face masks ready to pop into the backpack.

Her eight-year-old son Philip will be attending a special education class at Bacich Elementary School in Kentfield. Novack says the class will have eight students instructed by four adults in a large space, and she says the in-person instruction is critical because remote learning was not working for her son.

Novack says when it comes to her four-year-old daughter, however, they will stick with remote learning. She says her daughter is a more typical learner and is enrolled in a private school with a class of 30 students.

"We're choosing to keep her home and not send her to school because for her, we don't feel the risks outweigh the benefits. Her program is a lot larger," said Novack.

It's a difficult balancing act that families statewide are struggling with this fall as they weigh the benefits and the risks.

"The kids will be fine but what about all the people the kids come in contact with who won't?" said Hasan Sume, a father of three students in Greenbrae who says he plans to keep them home to protect their grandmother who lives with them.

"Every step is being guided by public health both at the state and local level," said Ken Lippi, an Assistant Superintendent at the Marin County Office of Education.

Get breaking news alerts in the KTVU news app. Download for iOS or Android. 

Lippi says they have been working since last spring on specific protocols to keep students and teachers safe.

"Protocols related to distancing, making sure all of our schools are properly stocked with PPE, and having a guidance in place when a scenario comes up where someone tests positive," said Lippi.

Lippi says the first wave of reopenings are focused on students with special needs who need in-person learning.

Marin and Santa Clara counties have seen declines in COVID transmissions, and could qualifiy for reopening later this month if the counties' coronavirus transmission drops from the top purple tier to the next highest red tier. San Francisco and Napa counties are already in the red tier.

"We're still vulnerable to losing the gains we achieve, especially if we relax too quickly," said Dr. Matt Willis, the Marin County Public Health Director.

Dr. Willis says they anticipate there will be Covid cases in school populations. He says the key is to be able to catch even asymptomatic coronavirus carriers.

"As we reopen, especially as we do things like try to get children back into schools, the volume of testing necessary to do that safely goes far beyond what health departments can offer. In fact, this is going to be with us for at least a year," said Dr. Willis.

Dr. Willis says currently, Marin County's COVID testing capacity is 700 tests per day and they'll will need hundreds more to meet demand

"Part of the goal for this fall is to really diversify responsibility for testing into the wider health care community so that we can make sure that all the teachers and students who need testing get it," said Dr. Willis.

Dr. Willis says as we head into the fall influenza season, it's essential for hospitals, clinics, private practices and pharmacies to ramp up their COVID testing to keep students and the community safe.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at jana.katsuyama@foxtv.com and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana