Kern schools qualified to reopen

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Kern schools qualified to reopenSchools in counties that have been off California’s COVID-19 monitoring list for 14 consecutive days are eligible for a return to on-campus instruction this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced at his press conference on Friday, July 17.

That means that, as long as Kern County stays off the list, Sierra Sands Unified School Districts are on target for a modified return to school on Tuesday, Aug. 11.

The SSUSD Board of Education met the previous evening to discuss a plan for the coming term. (See related story, Their approach was in line with state guidelines laid out by Newsom on Friday.

“Today I want to talk about what we are putting out in terms of guidance and guidelines for education in the state of California in the context of COVID-19,” said Newsom.

He said that for the 6.15 million children in public schools, “Our bottom line is that learning in the state of California is non-negotiable. Schools in the state of California must provide meaningful instruction during this pandemic — whether they are physically open or not.”

Newsom said that students, teachers, staff and parents have expressed a preference for in-classroom instruction and the social and emotional benefits that environment serves, “but only if it can be done safely.”

Districts in counties that meet criteria will also be required to enforce masking and distancing requirements. In addition, schools will be provide regular testing and comply with contact tracing efforts.

Sierra Sands and Ridgecrest Regional Hospital officials have already been in touch about how to meet new testing requirements, according to spokespersons of each organization. The challenge in meeting that criteria depends in part upon state-wide shortages of testing kits (more information on that as additional details become available).

Schools in the monitoring list will be required to offer a more rigorous distance-learning model than the one hastily adopted last spring, he said. “We will, and we must, address equity” as well as maintain the quality of instruction, he said.

“We want live daily interaction with teachers and other students.”

He addressed the gap in technology access and other support for disadvantaged children by making available $5.3 billion to provide “focused, intentional efforts to reach those who fall into category of special need. We are prioritizing the issue of equity.”

Districts will be granted funding “for the equipment that students need and deserve to address the digital divide.”

Drilling down into the details of each requirement, Newsom noted that masks will be required for all adults and students third-grade and older, and recommended for younger students. In order to accommodate symptom checks, schools will take the temperature of each student before allowing them on campus.

He said that quarantine protocols will be put into place for cohorts that have been exposed to anyone who tests positively for COVID.

“Public education is absolutely about our kids,” said Newsom. “But we cannot deny the fact that we have hundreds of thousands of adults that are responsible for taking care of and educating our kids. And their health has to be considered as well.”

Newsom’s full address can be found on his “California Governor” page on Facebook.

Story First Published: 2020-07-17