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Ventura County Public Health to consider school waivers for TK to 6th grade to open for in-person instruction

8 19 20 LEVIN

Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin in a screen shot from the Wednesday county government press conference.

 

Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin announced Wednesday that he will consider applications for school waiver applications to allow in-person instruction for transitional kindergarten to sixth grade in public and private schools.

In counties such as Ventura County that are on the state's COVID-19 monitoring list, grammar schools cannot reopen unless granted a waiver by local and state health officials, according to a county government press release.

“Also know that it will be a challenge for schools to get waiver approval," Levin said in a written statement in a press release issued Wednesday. "It will not be a done deal. Schools will have to meet rigorous standards of safety and responsibility.”

Ojai Unified School District Superintendent Tiffany Morse said Thursday that staff will make a recommendation to the school board at its next meeting. "There are several logistical questions that we would need to answer before we can make this determination, including how we would meet the requirement for daily testing," she said. "We are taking the matter under consideration at this time."

 

 

All grammar schools applying for waivers, public or private, are directed to meet, at a minimum, the criteria laid out in the document “Framework for Reopening Ventura County Schools” at the site VCOE.org/coronavirus. Middle schools and high schools are not eligible for waivers. The waiver application itself should be sent to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

“This was a difficult decision," Levin stated. "I recognize there are reasons not to open our Health Department to requests for waivers, but we got to the point where I feel the benefits outweigh the risks. Research shows that our youngest children derive significant benefits from in-person interaction with their teachers and with one another in the school setting. We will ensure that schools have a solid plan in place to protect their students and staff and they will work with the health department when there is a case to prevent further spread of the virus. I feel that children K through grade 6 can receive education in a manner that is both rewarding and safe."

At the time the state outlined the waiver process for elementary schools, Ventura County did not immediately begin accepting applications. “I’ve waited before approving this because I wanted to see some improvement in our number of COVID cases," Levin said. "Guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Harvard’s Global Health Institute, the Chan School of Public Health and the Edmund J. Safra Center for Ethics all would have supported opening up our grammar schools for waivers weeks ago. I’ve tried to be more cautious.

One of the most challenging aspects of the waiver application will be a school’s plan for regular COVID-19 testing of its staff and, if they should show symptoms of an illness, of its students as well.

In accordance with state guidelines, waivers may be granted "when requested by a local superintendent (or equivalent for charter or private schools), in consultation with labor, parent and community organizations. Local health officers must review local community epidemiological data, consider other public health interventions, and consult with the California Department of Public Health when considering a waiver request."

The State guidance lists conditions that must be met in applying for a waiver:

• A school or district must publish a school’s reopening plan online and, before applying, consult with parents, community organizations and teachers or, in the case of school districts, employee unions.
• The application will apply only to TK to sixth grade, even if the school includes seventh and eighth grades.
• The school must show evidence that it would comply with all the safety and hygiene requirements for opening elementary schools, as listed in the CDPH/CalOSHA Guidance for Schools and School- Based Programs.These include a 6-foot social distancing requirement, face covering requirements, staff training and family education and student and staff testing.

Waiver and Guiding Principle Documents

• Waiver: https://vcportal.ventura.org/covid19/docs/pr/2020-08-19_VCPH_WaiverTemplate.pdf.
• Ventura County Public Health Guiding Principles and Communication for School District:
https://vcportal.ventura.org/covid19/docs/pr/2020-08- 19_VCPH_SchoolDistrictGuidingPrinciples.pdf.
 

 In another document, county Public Health officials stated:

 
"The county of Ventura has been on the State monitoring list since June 11, 2020. On July 17, 2020 Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that if a county has been on the monitoring list within the prior 14 days, a school must conduct distance learning only, until the county has been off the monitoring list for at least 14 days.

"In counties on the monitoring list, California Department of Public Health guidance allows a district superintendent, private school principal/head of school, or executive director of a charter school (hereinafter superintendent) to apply for a waiver from the local health officer to open an elementary school for in-person instruction. This waiver is applicable only for grades TK-6, even if the grade configuration at the school includes additional grades.

"When applying for the waiver, the superintendent must submit to the local health officer evidence of (1) consultation with labor and parent organizations and (2) publication of the elementary school reopening plans on the website of the local educational agency (or equivalent).

"The local health officer then reviews the application and reopening plan (along with local community epidemiological data), makes a determination whether to grant or deny the waiver, and consults with CDPH regarding that determination. Elementary schools in counties on the monitoring list within the prior 14 days may not open for in-person instruction until they have received approval of a submitted waiver from the local health officer.

"In order to apply for a waiver, please complete and submit the attached Waiver Application Cover Form. An application must contain:

• Attestation that the superintendent (equivalent or designated staff) has consulted with all parent and labor organizations at each school site for which an application is being submitted. If no labor organization represents the school site staff, then consultation with school site staff is sufficient.
• Confirmation that elementary school reopening plans have been published on the website of the local educational agency (or equivalent). Reopening plans must address the components in the CDPH guidance for schools and school-based programs (which are also listed in the attached Application Cover Form).
Applications and all supporting documents should be submitted at least 14 days prior to the desired reopening date to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 

 In a third document released Wednesday, county Public Health officials stated their

 Guiding Principles and Communication for School Districts

 

"Background
"In mid-January, Ventura County Public Health began monitoring travelers returning from COVID-19 impacted areas and had our first case reported on March 4, 2020 in a returning traveler. Subsequently, Ventura County has taken numerous steps to curb transmission of the virus and allow time for our healthcare systems to increase their capacity to accommodate a potential surge. Ventura County declared a local health emergency on March 12, 2020 and since has issued several Public Health Officer Orders that are available at https://www.vcemergency.com/staywellvc.
"While the Stay Well at Home Order has been in place, schools transitioned to a 100% online learning environment. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued COVID-19 industry guidance for Schools and School-Based Programs on June 5, 2020 to be effective starting June 12, 2020 for re-opening schools. This guidance was updated as of August 3, 2020 and can be found at https://covid19.ca.gov/pdf/guidance-schools.pdf. The following VCPH specific guidance is meant to augment the CDPH guidance, not replace it. Therefore, VCPH expects school administrators to adhere to the CDPH guidance except where more restrictive VCPH guidance is outlined within this document. Like the CDPH guidance, this document is intended to help school districts prepare to resume in-person instruction and outline how VCPH will support the schools in creating and maintaining a safe environment as students, teachers, and staff return to campus and allow for as much in-person instruction as is safe.
"While the California Department of Education also released a guide for local schools that may be a resource (https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/hn/strongertogether.asp), VCPH recommendations are based upon CDPH guidance.
"The CDPH and CDE documents should be used for a reference for guidance not addressed in this document. After the Guiding Principles section, the headings will mirror the sections outlined in the industry guidance for Schools and School-Based Programs from CDPH.

Guiding Principles

VCPH recognizes the following guiding principles in developing this document:
   
"Social determinants such as poverty status, housing, and education play an integral role in overall health and wellness.
"Gaps in educational achievement are being exacerbated by transitioning to a completely online learning environment because those who are most vulnerable are more likely to have lack of access to internet, lack of devices, increased parental burden and stress, increased student stress, food insecurity, etc.
"Access to healthy foods and opportunities to participate in physical activity are imperative to helping to reduce the risk of severe morbidity and mortality from COVID- 19.
 • Students, teachers, and school staff should be considered essential during this pandemic and plans for exclusion and quarantine of these individuals after exposure should be developed accordingly.

General Measures – VCPH Guidance

In counties on the monitoring list, CDPH guidance allows a district superintendent, private school principal/head of school, or executive director of a charter school to apply for a waiver from the local health officer to open an elementary school for in-person instruction. This waiver is applicable only for grades TK-6, even if the grade configuration at the school includes additional grades. VCPH strongly encourages all eligible schools to submit a waiver. This means that local schools are eligible to resume in-person instruction and should comply with the following:
Monitor local epidemiologic data provided on www.vcemergency.com.
Submit a waiver application to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Develop a plan for re-opening that complies with state and local guidance to be submitted to the Ventura County Office of Education (via e-mail to Antonio Castro This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Dawn Anderson This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) no later than August 5, 2020. The VCPH Health Officer will not review or approve plans prior to submitting to VCOE. VCOE will be checking for compliance with guidance and providing feedback, but no formal approval will be granted. The plan should adhere to the CDPH and VCPH guidelines and include the following components:
— PromoteHealthyHygienePractices–Explainhowtheschoolswillimplement non-pharmaceutical interventions.
Plans for Cleaning, Disinfecting, andVentilation.
o Plans for Physical Distancing Inside and Outside the Classroom.
Employee and Staff Education-This should include training on how to wear PPE/face coverings, checking for signs and symptoms, and cleaning and disinfection procedures.
Family Education–This section should include a family communication plan.
Screening Procedure for Staff, Students, and Visitors.
Surveillance-This section should include a plan for monitoring fo rattendance, verifying absences, and notifying VCPH.
Plans should not require universal testing of students and staff prior to repening schools.
Each school district will be required to designate two liaisons, or one liaison per private school, to communicate with the VCPH Communicable Disease Program when a concern arises related to COVID-19; it is preferred that one of the designees will have a medical background (i.e. school nurse). All communication between VCPH and the school district will be coordinated through these liaisons to avoid confusion and duplication of efforts.
 
School district designees should be e-mailed to VCPH at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. no later than August 5, 2020, but before the start of school.
Promote Healthy Hygiene Practices – VCPH Guidance
In order to promote alignment between guidance documents, it is expected that school plans consider all recommendations proposed in COVID-19 Industry Guidance: Schools and School- Based Programs. The following statements represent required CDPH guidelines.
• Teach and reinforce washing of hands, avoiding contact with one’s eyes, nose, and mouth, and covering coughs and sneezes, among students and staff.
• Teach and reinforce use of cloth face coverings, masks, or face shields, as indicated. Face coverings are most essential when physical distancing is not feasible but must be worn if required by local or state guidance. Face coverings should not be used for children with special healthcare needs if they have any respiratory related or breathing issues, or if they cannot communicate that they are having trouble breathing.
• Develop schedules for routine handwashing before and after eating, after being outside, and before and after using the restroom.
• Provide information to all staff and families in the school community on proper use, removal, and washing of cloth face coverings.
• Ensure adequate supplies to support healthy hygiene behaviors.
Intensify Cleaning, Disinfection, and Ventilation – VCPH Guidance
In order to promote alignment between guidance documents, it is expected that school plans consider all recommendations proposed in COVID-19 Industry Guidance: Schools and School- Based Programs. The following statements represent required CDPH guidelines.
• Prohibit use of shared playground equipment in favor of physical activities that require less contact with surfaces.
• Limit sharing of objects and equipment, such as toys, games and art supplies to the extent feasible. But where allowed, clean and disinfect between uses.
• When choosing cleaning products, use those approved for use against COVID-19 on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved list “N” and follow product instructions, including for application and storage.
• Ensure proper ventilation during cleaning and disinfecting.
Implementing Distancing Inside and Outside the Classroom – VCPH
Guidance
VCPH will not specify the number of people that can be in a classroom and has the following recommendations:
• Each school may determine the number of students and staff in a classroom based on the classroom size (square footage) while maintaining physical distancing of at least 6 feet between all individuals.
• To the extent possible, and as recommended by the CDC, attempt to create smaller student/educator cohorts to minimize the mixing of student groups throughout the day. Minimize movement of students, educators, and staff as much as possible.
• Maximize space between seating and desks. Distance teacher and other staff desks at least six feet away from student desks. Consider ways to establish separation of students through other means if feasible, such as, six feet between desks, partitions between desks, markings on classroom floors to promote distancing or arranging desks in a way that minimizes face-to-face contact . Partitions or use of cloth face coverings do not lessen the need for physical distancing.
• Students should be encouraged to use cloth face coverings. Cloth face coverings are most essential in settings where physical distancing cannot easily be maintained, such as school buses or other settings where space may be insufficient. Masking of students and staff does not allow for greater density of individuals in a classroom.
Limit Sharing
No further VCPH guidance is provided for this section.
Train All Staff and Educate Families
No further VCPH guidance is provided for this section.
Check for Signs and Symptoms – VCPH Guidance
As indicated above, VCPH requires that each school district designate two liaisons to work with our Communicable Disease Program when there is a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 exposure within the school district. Notifications can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling 805-981-5101 and following the prompts for K-12 schools.
VCPH realizes that implementing active screening upon entering the facility for all students, staff, and visitors may create challenges for timely school entry and passive screening for staff and students may be appropriate.
* Passive Screening. Instruct parents to screen students and staff to self-screen before leaving for school (check temperature to ensure temperatures below 99.5 Fahrenheit by the no-touch temporal or forehead method or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit orally and observe for symptoms outlined by public health officials).
* Active Screening. Engage in symptom screening as students and staff enter campus and buses, consistent with public health guidance, which includes visual wellness checks and temperature checks with no-touch thermometers.
 
Plan for When a Staff Member, Child or Visitor Becomes Sick – VCPH Guidance
VCPH provides the following clarifications to the CDPH provided guidance:
• VCPH encourages schools to have a separate health office or space where routine health related procedures for students should take place (i.e. providing insulin, catheterization, etc.) and an additional health office or space for sick children to be evaluated.
• VCPH clarifies that sick staff members and students with confirmed COVID-19 should not return until they have met CDC criteria to discontinue home isolation which would be determined by VCPH, but all other communicable diseases should follow the School Quick Reference: Exclusion of Students.
Maintain Healthy Operations – VCPH Guidance
VCPH will designate Public Health Nurses (PHNs) from the Communicable Disease Program to address issues that arise in the schools due to COVID-19. These PHNs will maintain a SharePoint site with disease specific protocols and guidance documents for school appointed liaisons. In addition, VCPH recommends the following:
• School districts should conduct daily absence verification of symptoms to enter into their respective student information system and report weekly COVID or influenza-like illness (ILI) absenteeism for staff and students utilizing the VCPH surveillance survey. Report absenteeism rates immediately to VCPH if more than 10% of staff and students are out in a single day at any school site.
• Designated school district liaisons will be required to work with the VCPH PHNs on contact tracing for confirmed COVID-19 in a student, teacher, or staff member in their district. School district liaisons will be provided with training on contact tracing by VCPH.
Considerations for Partial or Total Closures – VCPH Guidance
In most cases, entire schools may not be required to close even if there is a confirmed case in a staff member or student. Closure of a classroom or multiple classrooms may be necessary to prevent disease transmission, but any decision to close a portion of or the entire school should be made in consult with VCPH. VCPH may also implement partial or full school closures where 6-foot social distancing requirements are not met.
SB 98 allows for distance learning either as a result of an order or guidance from a state or local public health officer, or for students who are medically fragile or would be put at risk by in- person instruction or who are self-quarantining because of exposure to COVID-19. While VCPH is encouraging as much classroom-based instruction as possible with social distancing in place, consistent with the intent of SB 98, the Ventura County Public Health Officer supports the use of distance learning or other means of non-classroom based instruction for school districts, as necessary to support continuity of instruction.
For the purposes of this guidance, VCPH considers students, teachers, and staff as essential learners and workers. VCPH recognizes that hundreds of children present to the health offices throughout the county each day school is in session. School nurses and health technicians will play a crucial role in triaging students and staff to determine if testing is warranted for COVID- 19. VCPH recommends the following:
• Students and staff that present to the school health offices with a fever of 99.5 Fahrenheit by the no-touch temporal or forehead method or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit orally and a cough and/or shortness of breath and/or gastrointestinal illness should be considered a suspect COVID-19 case and referred for testing.
Parents should be notified to pick up their child and call their primary medical doctor for referral to a site for COVID-19 testing.
For those students who do not have a usual source of care, coordinate with the VCPH PHN to arrange for same day testing through the Public Health Lab (PHL) by contacting 805-981-5101 and following the prompts for K-12 schools.
While the individual is awaiting test results, they should isolate at home and be provided with a distance learning option.
• Only a minority of students and staff who have COVID-19 infection fit the above description. School nurses and health technicians must use their judgement to identify additional suspect cases to refer for testing.
When there is an individual with a confirmed COVID-19 test, the school liaisons will coordinate with VCPH to determine who should be considered as a close contact. A close contact is someone who was within 6 feet of an individual for a sustained period of time (10-30 minutes). Students and staff identified as close contacts will be excluded from school/work per CDPH guidelines, however, can still engage in distance learning, if applicable.
For middle and high school students, teachers and classmates of the positive individual may not be considered close contacts with physical distancing measures in place. Nevertheless, all such individuals should be advised to redouble their efforts at sanitary behaviors and social distancing inside and outside school for the next 14 days and to consider any symptom outside of normal as evidence of possible COVID-19 infection and seek testing. Close friends should be considered close contacts and treated as such. VCPH will work with the school district liaisons to help coordinate testing of large groups of staff and students as needed.
 

 

 

For middle and high school students, teachers and classmates of the positive individual may not be considered close contacts with physical distancing measures in place. Nevertheless, all such individuals should be advised to redouble their efforts at sanitary behaviors and social distancing inside and outside school for the next 14 days and to consider any symptom outside of normal as evidence of possible COVID-19 infection and seek testing. Close friends should be considered close contacts and treated as such. VCPH will work with the school district liaisons to help coordinate testing of large groups of staff and students as needed.