Statement in Response to New State Directives for Schools
Following is a statement from Dr. Steve Herrington, Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools, in response to new state directives for schools issued today.
Today’s announcement by Gov. Gavin Newsom represented a significant shift from local school district control of reopening efforts, to statewide directives meant to address the health and safety concerns presented by a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases statewide.
From the beginning of the pandemic, SCOE and the school districts we serve have emphasized the need to use the best state and local health guidance available in order to prioritize student health and safety. To this end, I am glad to see the direction provided today, which marks the beginning of the California Department of Public Health playing a stronger role in setting the criteria for reopening and operating schools under COVID-19.
We appreciate that the new directives provide specific guidance—not only for when to close, but also for determining when it is safe to reopen. Schools need this level of detailed guidance in order to provide the students, families, and staff they serve with the reassurance that clear safety protocols are in place to protect their health.
I know that these new directives, while helpful, present yet another change in the information that schools and families have been receiving this summer, and that this could create some confusion and frustration. However, If there's been one consistency during this ever-changing situation, it's been the need to be flexible and make adjustments based on changing conditions. SCOE and the districts we serve will continue to be nimble and adapt based on the best available guidance of state and local health experts.
Since Sonoma County is currently on the state watch list, schools and districts will likely need to begin the school year in the distance learning portion of their plans—depending on how long Sonoma County remains on the watchlist. Currently, Sonoma County is on the watch list until the state takes further action, which would be no earlier than Aug. 2. Based on the new guidance, all schools must remain in distance learning at least until their county has been off the state’s watch list for 14 days. This is consistent with the direction that most local school districts were already planning to take.
This guidance also addresses the wearing of face coverings, social distancing, increased hygiene practices and cleaning, as well as rules for operating transportation and sports programming. You can find the Guidance for Schools and School-Based Programs at the COVID-19 website at covid19.ca.gov, clicking on the “Industry Guidance” section, and scrolling down to the Schools tab.
SCOE will now work closely with local school leaders and our public health department to interpret these directives and how they impact the plans that schools have been diligently creating throughout the summer. Additionally, SCOE will work with our public health partners to ensure that Sonoma County has adequate testing and contact tracing capacity to ensure a safe return to school once Sonoma County is off the watch list.
I will meet with Sonoma County’s 38 superintendents, as well as charter school and private school leaders, early next week to discuss this new guidance in detail. SCOE has been and will continue to provide professional development and other supports to assist districts in building robust distance learning options for all students. Sonoma County schools are committed to serving families with high-quality instruction and supports, regardless of the current conditions under COVID-19.
I thank our school leaders and staff, as well as our parents and students, for their flexibility and understanding during these incredibly challenging, fluid, and unprecedented times.