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OUSD welcomes students, health protocols in place

 Screen Shot 2021 08 20 at 10.29.18 AM

Grant Phillips, Ojai Valley News reporter

Ojai Unified School District welcomed students back to campus Aug. 18 for in-person classes, with masks required for all students and employees indoors, per state Public Health mandates. On Aug. 16, two back-to-school online “town hall” meetings were held to discuss COVID-19 safety protocols.

OUSD Superintendent Tiffany Morse and Sarah Rivera, a community health trainer from the Ventura County Office of Public Health, discussed the state Public Health requirements at the Aug. 16 meetings, held in English and Spanish. The delta variant was a main point of concern, with Rivera pointing out that, as of Aug. 16, there had been 172 delta-specific cases within Ventura County affecting residents between the ages of 4 and 82.

“Our only goal is to make sure that children have this inperson experience going back to school in the safest possible way,” said Rivera.

The safety plan follows seven main points of focus specific to each school. Vaccinations for any children of age (Pfizer is approved for children 12 and up) without allergy concerns are encouraged. Masks are still the No. 1 tool for mitigation throughout the school district. In a change from the previous year, masks will not be required during outside activities. Students are not currently required to socially distance from one another, although it will be encouraged as an extra safety precaution. Face coverings not allowed on campus are gators, bandanas, or any masks with vents or holes in them. Students will be handed a different mask as an alternative and surgical masks will be provided to any students who request them. A re-evaluation of mask mandates is expected to come no later than Nov. 1.

Modified quarantine focuses on a decision tree that outlines when quarantines should occur. Those who qualify for modified quarantine include asymptomatic children, unvaccinated students who are exposed to COVID-19 while both individuals are wearing face coverings, and fully vaccinated students who are asymptomatic. During modified quarantine, students are allowed to continue attending classes in-person, but are requested to wear a mask outdoors as well.

If unmasked during exposure, students are asked to complete a 10-day quarantine with steady review over a 14- day period. The county differs from the California Department of Public Health in this instance, as the state has only a seven-day quarantine with a negative test after the fifth day. Red-flag symptoms for choosing to quarantine include: a fever of 99.5 degrees, cough and a loss of taste or smell. The modified quarantine rules are based on the decision tree graphic, which can be found accompanying this article.

Contact tracing will be performed by school liaisons from Ventura County Public Health and designated staff. Cases will be reported on the school’s online COVID-19 dashboard.

The new Public Health order was also addressed regarding the mandate for staff, teachers, and employees to either be fully vaccinated, or be tested weekly for COVID-19. The mandate came from the governor and schools have until Oct. 15 to negotiate with labor unions to make a direct plan in relation to the mandate.

COVID-19 testing of students will not occur without parent consent or approval, and vaccines will not be mandated for students following the current guidelines.

While a certain class may be closed or canceled due to an outbreak, there is no qualifying threshold number for a complete school closure. With no official legal provision for distance learning this year, if students have to quarantine, they are asked to complete short-term independent study from work received on campus. Adjustments will continue to be made on a case-by-case basis.

OUSD’s school board will hold its regular board meeting Aug. 25 where they will address any COVID-19 updates and protocols. The agenda for the meeting can be found here: https://core-docs.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/asset/uploaded_file/1490309/August_25__2021_Agenda.pdf

Additional items on the agenda include: Reading and Fluency Training (RAFT) updates, Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) updates, updates to board policies and the Board Governance Handbook, and a proposal for the Parent Advisory Committee. 

The second meeting was a general back-to-school question-and-answer conversation with Ventura County Superintendent of Schools César Morales. The meeting focused on safety precautions throughout the county schools.

“We’re responding in accordance to all the guidance that’s been given to us by the state and local health agencies,” said Morales. “Our students deserve to be in school and succeed every day.”

Distance learning was part of the 2021 school year and was tied to Senate Bill 98, which expired June 30. The bill allowed schools to pivot to virtual learning while maintaining continuity and daily contact with teachers. But with the bill expiring, the state Legislature modified the independent-study program, allowing certain students an alternative to face-to-face instruction. While weekly communication is a requirement for grades K-3, grades 4-12 lose the same daily contact requirement originally given during the distance-learning policies from the previous year.

The Legislature will be back in session in September.

All districts are abiding to requirements set by the California Department of Public Health and Ventura County Public Health. While counties cannot have less-restrictive Public Health measures than the state, they can have more restrictive measures.

Health metrics are tracked weekly and evaluated, which may result in a change of policy throughout the school year.

“We want to offer students the best quality education possible and be responsible to all of their needs,” said Morales. “We’re going to need all hands on deck with everybody in the family, as well as every employee, every staff member, every teacher, every specialist that resides in a school district to make the best program possible for our students.”

Nordhoff High School’s Back-to-School Night will also be taking place in-person this year on Aug. 31.

 

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