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TC Public Health Details Stance On Schools Reopening

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Sonora, CA — The Tuolumne County Public Health Department has provided Clarke Broadcasting additional information regarding the question about when school districts should reopen campus for in-person learning.

The Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Office, following discussions with all of the various district superintendents, and the public health department, announced back on July 30 that all districts would start the 2020-21 year in a distance learning format, citing at the time, that the county was anticipating to join the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list. When on the list, the state mandates that counties go distance learning until being off the list for 14 consecutive days. Long story short, the state had a data glitch, and the local case numbers also dropped, so the county never joined the list.

Local school reopening plans need to be approved by the Tuolumne County Public Health Department, and we reported earlier this week that at least a couple of schools are taking steps to reopen next month. Clarke Broadcasting asked the Tuolumne County Public Health Department about if it has an official stance regarding schools reopening.

Public Health Director Michelle Jachetta clarifies that the health officer is not requiring schools to operate one way or the other (distance or in-person). She does state, “However, to limit the transmission of COVID-19 and the impact to the local healthcare system, Public Health believes the safest mode of instruction is through distance learning. The final decision to conduct distance and/or in-person learning belongs to each school board.”

The department also recommends that if a school reopens, it utilize a “co-hort” or “hybrid” model to reduce the number of students on campus at a given time.

Tuolumne County has 11 individual school districts with boards, in addition to the Superintendent of Schools Office, so each jurisdiction will make its own decisions. It will not be a one size fits all approach. On the topic of some schools reopening, Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Cathy Parker told Clarke Broadcasting earlier this week, “A measured, controlled reopening plan at each site will look slightly different based upon their students’ needs, infrastructure (space, air handling systems, for example) and ability to control/monitor outbreaks. It is important for the community to continue to maintain the practices that have enabled us to remain off the state monitoring list. Those practices include the wearing of face coverings, practicing physical distancing including staying at least 6 feet apart, and staying home when you have symptoms.”

You can read the entire statement from the Tuolumne County Health Department about schools reopening, from Director Michelle Jachetta, below:

“Tuolumne County Public Health continues to coordinate with school districts and the Superintendent of Schools on plans for the 20-21 school year. The Health Officer has provided up-to-date epidemiological data, situation reports, and information on statewide guidance and requirements for safe school operations so that districts can make the most informed decisions on how to safely provide instruction to students.

At this time, Tuolumne County is not on the state monitoring list which means schools could open for in-person learning in accordance with comprehensive state requirements. The Health Officer has not limited or required schools to operate in a distance learning mode of instruction. However, to limit the transmission of COVID-19 and the impact to the local healthcare system, Public Health believes the safest mode of instruction is through distance learning.  The final decision to conduct distance and/or in-person learning belongs to each school board.

If a school opts to re-open for any in-person instruction, the school is required to submit a COVID-19 prevention plan to Public Health for review. This applies to both public and private schools. If a school chooses to open in-person instruction, it is recommended schools utilize a hybrid and/or cohort model and ensure the safety plan is properly implemented and operationalized to reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission. This entails all students, families, and staff following the safety measures and protocols each school has in place. Schools should also ensure the COVID-19 response team staff are trained and aware of the process to coordinate with public health in the event of a positive case or an outbreak at the school.

School administrators should continue to maintain communications with public health to receive updates on the situation in the community and be prepared with their school closing and reopening plans in the event that the County is placed on the CDPH Monitoring List. Specific questions regarding school opening can be directed to each school district.”

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