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Tuolumne County Schools Looking At Soft Opening In August

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Sonora, CA — Tuolumne County school leaders indicate that plans are currently being developed to return at the normal time, but it will include more social distancing, everyone in face coverings, and cohort rotations.

A virtual town hall meeting was held this evening hosted by the Tuolumne County Public Health Department and the Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Office. It was moderated by District Two Tuolumne County Supervisor Ryan Campbell, and some of the main speakers were Interim Public Health Officer Dr. Liza Ortiz and Superintendent of Schools Cathy Parker. All of the various individual district superintendents also participated.

Dr. Ortiz indicated that the schools are currently planning for a “normal start date” in mid-August, but there will likely be a “soft-opening.” It means that roughly half of the students would come on Monday and Tuesday, distance learning would occur for all on Wednesday, and the other half would be in the classroom on Thursday and Friday. There would still be five days of education, but students would only be in the classroom for two of them. It would keep students in small group cohorts.

Superintendent Parker noted that it would not be a “long-term situation,” but it would allow for a transition during the first weeks of the school year.  It was indicated that the goal is to soon thereafter go back to a more traditional school week for students.

Around 100 questions were submitted ahead of the town hall, and one of the most common was in relation to face coverings.

Dr. Ortiz sated that the expectation is that cloth masks will be required for both students and staff. There may be exceptions for “very specific medical purposes,” and an alternative could be a face shield. She noted that face coverings are “a major component of keeping other students and staff safe.” Adding, “It doesn’t eliminate the risk, but reduces it.”

Tuolumne County Schools Nurse Martha Stolp noted that there will be training for school staff, and possibly for students, about masking.

Superintendent Parker stressed that the mask requirement will be enforced through education, and not punitively.

The California Office of Emergency Services is supplying the county schools with a 60 day supply of masks for students and staff, and school officials are looking at doing a “group buy” to purchase the PPE for the months thereafter.

District officials also indicated that busing is still in the plans for the upcoming year, but it will be modified, and there will be more social distancing. After school PM Clubs are also likely to resume.

It was also acknowledged that developing plans is a challenging balancing act to keep not only children safe, but also staff.

Asked about what happens in the event of a student testing positive for COVID-19, Dr. Ortiz stated it is likely that the class will all be sent home for two weeks, but unlikely that the entire school will be closed. She stated that this is why cohorting, physical distancing and masking is important.

School officials acknowledged that while these are the current plans being developed, much can still change over the coming weeks depending on the local spread of the virus.

On the question of sports, it was noted that the CIF will be releasing guidance on July 20. If for some reason school cannot start on time, the CIF is still planning to divide the remaining year into three sports seasons.

Over 500 people logged onto the virtual town hall and others viewed it via Access Tuolumne.