Berkeley and San Jose schools are prepared to reopen soon; Oakland Unified isn't

Berkeley middle and high schools have the option to reopen Monday if they have a plan and follow guidance to limit the spread of COVID-19, and schools in San Jose plan to return to in-person learning in January. There are no such plans for Oakland Unified. 

Berkeley's health officer Lisa Hernadez on Thursday gave the OK because of lower case rates along with healthy choices, according to city officials. Elementary schools were given the choice to reopen on Oct. 13.

Berkeley city officials said that families who send their children to school should try to lower their overall exposure to COVID-19 by limiting other public activities, such as slumber parties or play dates. Schools that want to reopen must create a plan that complies with the state's Industry Guidance for Schools and School-Based Programs as well as Berkeley's health order. That plan must be put on the school's website and shared with families before a reopening occurs.

Since the spread of COVID-19 is slowing in Santa Clara County and schools no longer responsible for testing, San Jose Unified School District officials will allow students to return to class Jan. 5.

Already staff members are preparing classrooms and common areas, and developing training for in-person learning. A key reason for this, according to the superintendent, is that the Santa Clara County Public Health Department has ordered local health providers to provide COVID-19 testing to essential workers, including school employees. 

SJUSD spokesperson Jennifer Maddox said teachers will be required to be tested but students are not unless they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. The school is responsible for contact identification, letting the district and Santa Clara Public Health know which students and staff had COVID-19 at school. Those exposed to that person will receive notifications. Maddox said the district is capping the capacity of the classrooms based upon 6-foot distancing and is planning for 50 capacity in each classroom. During the week of Nov. 16, families must decide whether to continue distance learning or return to school.

The district said it is balancing student and staff safety with the advantages of in-person learning. Students will return provided Santa Clara County remains in the orange or yellow tier. If Santa Clara County is in the red or purple tier on Dec. 30, the district plans to postpone in-person instruction.

Distance learning will continue to be an option for any student who is not comfortable returning. If the district cannot accommodate students for in-person learning with their current teachers due to capacity limitations, it will offer the option of placement with another teacher or location or remaining in distance learning with the same teacher. 

 East Side Union High School District in San Jose started easing back to in-person learning on a limited basis last month. 

Spokeswoman Laura Dudnick said San Francisco Unified is preparing to open schools for in-person instruction for small groups of students no sooner than January. The first to go back will be early elementary students and those with moderate- to severe disabilities, she said. SFUSD has a reopening dashboard to show what work still needs to be done to get all students to return to class in person. 

And in the East Bay, the  Oakland Unified School District said this week that students will be in full distance learning until at least January because of the pandemic.

The district also said it is currently meeting with the teachers' union to discuss in-person learning, but that's mostly for at-risk  students or those  with internet access issues.