Resources > Charter Currents > Charter Currents: Coronavirus Update #16: Newsom Administration Issues Updated Guidance Prohibiting In-Person Instruction for Most Students

Editor’s Note: CSDC is offering these Coronavirus-19 updates for public viewing, to members and non-members alike, and in front of our usual member’s only “paywall” as a service to the larger charter school community. We hope nonmembers will consider joining CSDC.


Sacramento, CA—Governor Newsom on Friday announced updated guidance issued by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), generally prohibiting schools in most of California’s populous counties from physically reopening until infection rates subside. Only those schools located in counties that have not been on the state’s Monitoring List for the prior 14 days may begin in-person instruction, and then only in alignment with the updated state and local health officer guidance. 

According to Newsom’s press release, local health officers, in consultation with CDPH, may grant waivers for elementary schools if requested by the district superintendent, in consultation with labor, parents, and community organizations. No criteria for such waivers are listed, nor does the document speak to whether charter school administrators may request waivers.

While most of the new guidance aligns with prior guidance, it signals a sharp turn away from local to state decision-making as infection rates surge in many parts of the state and as teacher unions exert considerable political pressure to remain in distance learning mode.

Most of the updated guidance is self-explanatory, though notable sections are vague or confusing. CSDC developed the table below to highlight some of the key features of the guidance, along with our commentary on interpretation and practical applications. We note that reading the table below is not a substitute for reading the full, 19-page guidance document and we strongly recommend that all charter leaders read and parse it carefully in full and discuss any questions or concerns with their local health officer.

 

COVID-19 INDUSTRY GUIDANCE: Schools and School-Based Programs

July 17, 2020

CDPH Guidance

CSDC Interpretation

1.       General Measures

This section outlines broad measures that must be taken by schools that wish to re-open from distance learning, including:

  • Establish and continue communication with local and State authorities to determine current disease levels and control measures in the community.
  • Establish a written, worksite-specific COVID-19 prevention plan at every facility, perform a comprehensive risk assessment of all work areas and work tasks, and designate a person at each school to implement the plan.
  • Evaluate whether, and to what extent, external community organizations can safely utilize the site and campus resources. Ensure external community organizations that use the facilities also follow this guidance.
  • Develop a plan for the possibility of repeated closures of classes, groups, or entire facilities when persons associated with the facility or in the community become ill with COVID-19.
  • Develop a plan to further support students with access and functional needs who may be at increased risk of becoming infected or having unrecognized illness due to COVID-19.

 

Many of these general measures are already being done by schools at this time. The 19-page document provided by CDPH provides several resources and links that may be worth exploring if a charter school isn’t currently following this kind of guidance.

CSDC recommends that all charter schools develop a comprehensive plan for the possibility of the closure of the facility if, in fact a teacher or student should become ill with the virus. CSDC further recommends the adoption of a board policy related to school closure and also one for social distancing/mask use while on campus.  Examples of such will be forthcoming on the CSDC website.

2.       Promote Healthy Hygiene Practices

  • Employers must provide and ensure staff use face coverings in accordance with CDPH guidelines and all required protective equipment.
  • The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) and the Department of Public Health (CDPH) are and will be working to support procurement and distribution of face coverings and personal protective equipment.

This section covers everything from hand washing to face coverings, to ensuring that students receive a flu vaccine. The first recommendation worth noting is the advice – upon a return to school – to set up hand washing stations rather than rely on hand sanitizer to kill germs. While time consuming and requiring the purchase of hand washing stations and soap, the efficacy of hand washing appears to have a greater impact on virus spread.

The second recommendation worth clarifying is that CalOES claims to “support the procurement and distribution of face coverings and personal protective equipment.” In practice, most schools have found that the initial distribution of masks and other PPE is only sufficient to last for about 2-3 weeks of full-time school. At the time this was drafted, CSDC had not heard whether additional materials will be made available beyond this initial allocation.    

 

3.       Face Coverings

Face coverings must be used in accordance with CDPH guidelines unless a person is exempt as explained in the guidelines, particularly in indoor environments, on school buses, and areas where physical distancing alone is not sufficient to prevent disease transmission.

Age Face Covering Requirement:

  • Under 2 years old – No.
  • 2-years-old – 2nd grade – Strongly encouraged.
  • 3rd grade – High School  – Yes, unless exempt.

All staff must use face coverings, except in limited situations (e.g., communicating with young and special needs children) where face shields may be used with physical distancing. 

Persons handling/serving food must also use gloves.

Guidance on face coverings is fairly strong, at least for students (grades 3 and up) and all staff.  CDPH goes into some detail on how to ensure that students keep masks clean and what to do if students refuse to wear them (provide distance learning opportunities). Overall, this section is in line with the statewide guidance on mask wearing currently in place in California.

 

4.    Ensure Teacher and Staff Safety

Support staff who are at higher risk for severe illness or who cannot safely distance from household contacts at higher risk, by providing options such as telework, where appropriate, or teaching in a virtual learning or independent study context.

  • Conduct all staff meetings, professional development training and education, and other activities involving staff with physical distancing measures in place, or virtually, where physical distancing is a challenge.
  • Minimize the use of and congregation of adults in staff rooms, break rooms, and other settings.
  • Implement procedures for daily symptom monitoring for staff.

While ensuring the use of face coverings and social distancing seems self-explanatory, this section seems to leave open as many questions as it answers. For instance: are the teachers at a higher risk for severe illness also the most highly qualified to teach in a virtual learning or independent study context? And what kind of procedures for daily symptom checks will be allowed under these guidelines? Is self-monitoring and reporting acceptable?

CSDC suggests that each school craft a policy around both the requirements for teachers who would be allowed to continue to teach in a virtual context, as well as a policy around individual school compliance with daily symptom checks.  Ensure that all these guidelines are applied according to the school’s policy.

5.    Intensify Cleaning, Disinfection, and Ventilation

Frequently touched surfaces in the school include, but are not limited to door handles, light switches, sink handles, bathroom surfaces, tables, student desks and chair .

  • Limit use and sharing of objects and equipment, such as toys, games, art supplies, and playground equipment to the extent practicable. When shared use is allowed, clean and disinfect between uses.
  • Take steps to ensure that all water systems and features (for example, drinking fountains and decorative fountains) are safe to use after a prolonged facility shutdown to minimize the risk of Legionnaires’ disease and other diseases associated with water.

Most of this section is fairly straightforward and specific.

In addition to the information printed in the column to the left, this section also goes into very specific detail regarding the types of cleaning supplies that may be used to disinfect schools.  Please see the original document for that information.

The specificity around cleaning protocols and the desire to see such things as new air filters and the suspension of the use of drinking fountains underscores the concern around the spread of the disease.

 

 

6.    Implementing Distancing Inside and Outside the Classroom

  • Stagger arrival and drop off-times and locations as consistently as practicable to minimize scheduling challenges for families.
  • To reduce possibilities for infection, students must remain in the same space and in cohorts as small and consistent as practicable, including for recess and lunch. Keep the same students and teacher or staff with each group, to the greatest extent practicable.
  • Activities where there is increased likelihood for transmission from contaminated exhaled droplets such as band and choir practice and performances are not permitted.
  • Serve meals outdoors or in classrooms instead of cafeterias or group dining rooms where practicable. Where cafeterias or group dining rooms must be used, keep students together in their cohort groups, ensure physical distancing, and consider assigned seating. Serve individually plated or bagged meals. Avoid sharing of foods and utensils and buffet or family-style meals.
  • Consider holding recess activities in separated areas designated by class.

This section offers broad and wide-ranging guidance to schools regarding distancing, much of which is challenging to implement in practice.  Of specific note, it prohibits choir and band, but does not specifically appear to prohibit contact sports.

It also emphasizes the use of outdoor areas for both teaching and for recess by small groups but fails to discuss what might happen for schools when the weather is inclement.

There is also practical guidance on creating areas of ingress and egress for students as they attend school and for limiting the participation of parents and other volunteers.

7.    Limit sharing

Keep each child’s belongings separated and in individually labeled storage containers, cubbies, or areas. Ensure belongings are taken home each day to be cleaned.

  • Ensure adequate supplies to minimize sharing of high-touch materials (art supplies, equipment, etc.) to the extent practicable, or limit use of supplies and equipment to one group of children at a time and clean and disinfect between uses.
  • Avoid sharing electronic devices, clothing, toys, books, and other games or learning aids as much as practicable. Where sharing occurs, clean and disinfect between uses.

While the ability to keep a student’s belongings in a separate storage container seems feasible, the ability to limit sharing of devices and books seems a little more onerous. It is likely that this guidance will be followed in some areas and in other areas, the section related to cleaning will be followed instead.

8.    Train All Staff and Educate Families

  • Train all staff and provide educational materials to families in the following safety actions:
  • Enhanced sanitation practices,
  • Physical distancing guidelines and their importance,
  • Proper use, removal, and washing of face coverings,
  • Screening practices,
  • How COVID-19 is spread,
  • COVID-19 specific symptom identification,

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 if you are sick, including the importance of not coming to work if staff members have symptoms, or if they or someone they live with has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

  • For workers, COVID-19 specific symptom identification and when to seek medical attention
  • The employer’s plan and procedures to follow when children or adults become sick at school.
  • The employer’s plan and procedures to protect workers from COVID-19 illness.
  • Consider conducting the training and education virtually, or, if in-person, ensure a minimum of six-foot distancing is maintained.

It is unlikely that the guidance means to suggest that the school should create and produce educational materials to address all these topics, but the guidance only provides links to a few areas.

CSDC suggests working with local county health departments to procure materials or links to information to provide to staff and families. 

Additionally, as the guidance notes, all training should be done virtually unless a six-foot distancing can be maintained.

9.    Check for Signs and Symptoms

Prevent discrimination against students who (or whose families) were or are diagnosed with COVID-19 or who are perceived to be a COVID-19 risk.

Implement screening and other procedures for all staff and students entering the facility.

  • Conduct visual wellness checks of all students or establish procedures for parents to monitor at home. If checking temperatures, use a no-touch thermometer.
  • Monitor staff and students throughout the day for signs of illness; send home students and staff with a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, cough or other COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Policies should not penalize students and families for missing class.

Some of the information in this guidance seems contradictory. For instance, the guidance both suggests that the school is responsible for screening staff and students, and that it is acceptable to have parents monitor students’ health at home.

Additionally, the guidance to monitor staff and students during the day is unclear. It appears as though the direction may lean toward active monitoring, but realistically, schools will likely lean toward a more passive monitoring (self-reporting or observation) of sick students and staff.

10.   Plan for When a staff Member Child or Visitor Becomes Sick

Work with school administrators, nurses, and other healthcare providers to identify an isolation room or area to separate anyone who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19.

Close off areas used by any individual suspected of being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and do not use before cleaning and disinfection. To reduce risk of exposure, wait 24 hours before you clean and disinfect. If it is not possible to wait 24 hours, wait as long as practicable. Ensure a safe and correct application of disinfectants using personal protective equipment and ventilation recommended for cleaning. Keep disinfectant products away from students.

  • Advise sick staff members and students not to return until they have met CDC criteria to discontinue home isolation, including at least 3 days with no fever, symptoms have improved and at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared.
  • Ensure that students, including students with disabilities, have access to instruction when out of class, as required by federal and state law.

Guidance in this area directs schools to follow fairly specific protocols after identifying a sick staff member or student.

Other medical guidance suggests that a 14-day self-quarantine post exposure is most appropriate, so the CDC suggestion to quarantine for 3 days post fever may be less restrictive.

There is CDPH protocol for how to handle an entire school outbreak of COVID-19, but given the infectious nature of the virus, unless the school has been strict in its use of limiting staff and student exposure and social distancing, it may be necessary to entirely close some schools and return to distance learning in order to keep staff and families feeling safe.

11.   Maintain Health Operations

Monitor staff absenteeism and have a roster of trained back-up staff where available.

Designate a staff liaison or liaisons to be responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns. Workers should know who they are and how to contact them. The liaison should be trained to coordinate the documentation and tracking of possible exposure, in order to notify local health officials, staff, and families in a prompt and responsible manner.

Maintain communication systems that allow staff and families to self-report symptoms and receive prompt notifications of exposures and closures, while maintaining confidentiality, as required by FERPA and state law related to privacy of educational records.

The guidance to “Monitor staff absenteeism and have a roster of trained back-up staff where available,” seems nearly impossible, especially for hard-to-staff positions. It is unlikely that employees would be willing to cross-train for positions at a rate that would keep schools open.  Further, maintaining a roster of available on-call, trained staff willing to work in schools during a pandemic feels like a heavy lift.

Adding duties such as “staff liaison” and the creation of a self-reporting system for families may require the hiring of additional administrative staff if current staff are already working at full capacity during this pandemic. 

12.   Considerations for Reopening and Partial or Total Closures

In consultation with the local public health department, the appropriate school official may decide whether school closure versus cleaning and quarantine of exposed persons or other intervention is warranted, including the length of time necessary, based on the risk level within the specific community as determined by the local public health officer.

Develop a plan for continuity of education. Consider in that plan how to also continue nutrition and other services provided in the regular school setting to establish alternate mechanisms for these services to continue.

This section largely reiterates current guidance, and some of the sections above. Schools appear to have some decision-making ability, in consultation with public health officers, regarding the opening and reopening of schools after a student or staff member is infected. This is, however, only after schools re-open according to the governor’s latest orders to close schools in counties where infection rates are still on the increase.

 

 

 


Posted: 07/20/2020