Santa Clara County issues school reopening guidelines

On Tuesday, Santa Clara County officials announced new requirements as part of their plan to get students back in the classroom. Among them include mandatory face coverings in the classroom and strict social distancing among middle and high schoolers.

The county’s health officer said it depends on containment and the number of cases of COVID-19 for in-class learning to resume. The county released a 23-page rulebook on how to safely reopen schools. Classroom instruction is sure to look a lot different in the Fall.

Many school districts in Santa Clara County are preparing to start the school year as planned in mid-August. For many parents, like Mike Flynn, he wants his high schooler back in the classroom.

“I believe there’s a number of things besides education that is beneficial for the kids to attend school,” said Flynn. “They learn a lot from their peers, the social structure.”

“We want all students and teachers to return to school as soon as possible and under the safest possible conditions,” said Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody.

On Tuesday, county officials released new guidelines on the safe reopening of schools for K through 12 public and private education. Different age groups will be given different rules.

“There will be more social distancing and physical distancing as children enter schools,” said Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Ann Dewan. “ At the elementary school level, there will be an expectation of stable cohorts.”

Elementary schoolchildren would be taught in smaller groups, desks in rows and not facing each other. Middle and high schoolers would be required to wear face coverings at all times, on different schedules. Some extracurricular activities like choir to be done virtually.

“Young children aren’t engines of transmission as they are with flu,” said Dr. Cody. “In fact, it’s more likely an adult will spread to a child.”

Data indicates the risk of spreading the virus among younger children appears to be lower than older children. Middle and high schoolers would be treated like adults.

“It’s going to be very challenging to adhere to that social distancing guidelines because kids like to be in tight groups, they like to see what is on someone else's phone,” said Flynn.

Flynn is concerned the guidelines are not practical.

“I think that the county did the very best that they could with the number of schools they have to offer but the county effectively kicked it to the schools and said good luck schools,” said Flynn. “I hope you could make this happen.”

Alum Rock School District’s superintendent said the district is moving cautiously. In the district, there are two zip codes with a high number of Covid-19 cases.

“Are we preparing to provide face to face instruction in Alum Rock? Yes,” said Superintendent Hilaria Bauer. “To what extent? I don't know.”

The county school superintendent said distance learning will likely be a component in the long term and schools should prepare for in person, remote learning or a hybrid of the two. County officials said guidance for athletics and sports is expected to be released at a later time.