Santa Clara County releases guidance on reopening of schools this fall

More students need counseling, while those services are harder to deliver since schools closed. (Photo by Alison Yin/EdSource)

Santa Clara County education officials are planning for students and teachers to return to classrooms this fall, and while there is no guarantee they remain optimistic. 

The county's top health officer, Dr. Sara Cody, and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Ann Dewan released guidance on Tuesday that offers a range of requirements and recommendations to achieve a safe learning environment for students and staff. 

In a 23-page guidance document, the county laid out the framework for how public and private K-12 schools can reopen touching on everything from physical distancing in both indoor and outdoor spaces to pick-up and drop-offs. 

The guidance recognizes that the needs of elementary school students differ from those of middle and high school students, so the protocols can be adapted to best suit those settings. 

For example, all K-12 grade students are required to wear face coverings on campus, but elementary students don't have to wear them within their stable class cohort. County officials said based on the social and educational needs of elementary students, physical distancing and face coverings may be difficult to enforce. 

"Strict maintenance of a stable classroom cohort, which minimizes the total number of contacts, is the primary mechanism of risk reduction," according to the guidance. 

Physical distance is most important for middle and high school students, experts say. It is suggested, that students are spaced six feet apart and if that is no possible, teachers should consider placing barriers between students. 

As schools weigh different scenarios for reopening that will either bring students back to campus or stick with distance learning—possibly even a combination of both—ultimately that decision will be based on the risk-factors. 

"Whether schools can move forward with reopening fro in-person instruction will depend on the containment of COVID-19 in the weeks and months to come," Cody said. 

In March, health officials ordered campuses to close as the risk of COVID-19 exposure in school settings increased. 

Santa Clara County was the first in the nation to enforce a stay-at-home order to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

As it stands, Santa Clara County has 4,370 COVID-19 cases and 156 deaths, according to the county's data dashboard