SCOE Responds to California Department of Public Health 2021 Back to School Guidance
On Monday afternoon, July 12, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released its COVID-19 guidelines for the 2021-22 school year. These rules are meant to safely open schools for full-time in-person instruction this fall, and are expected to be reassessed by the state by Nov. 1, based on vaccination rates, virus case rates, and testing rates.
All California schools—public, charter, and private—are required to follow this state guidance as they plan for their fall reopenings.
“This guidance from the state will help schools plan for a safe and effective start to the school year,” said Steve Herrington, Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools at the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE). “At the same time, some questions remain about important operational practices, such as how schools should address students who do not wear masks, and testing and quarantine policies. We hope for additional state guidance and clarification in these areas.”
While SCOE cannot create health-related guidance for schools, it works closely with the Sonoma County Health Officer to support schools in understanding and implementing the guidance.
The CDPH guidelines make clear that schools can safely return to full-time, in-person learning if certain safety measures are in place. These include:
- All students will be required to wear masks at all times when indoors, unless exempted. Staff working directly with students will be required to wear masks indoors as well.
- Masks will be optional outdoors.
- Schools must develop and implement local protocols to enforce the mask requirements. Schools should offer alternative educational opportunities for students who are excluded from campus because they will not wear a face covering.
- There will be a continued emphasis on vaccination for all eligible students and staff.
- All schools should have a strong testing and contact tracing program available.
- If an unvaccinated student has been exposed to COVID-19 while both parties were wearing masks, the student can continue attending school in-person if they:
- Are asymptomatic;
- Continue to appropriately mask, as required;
- Undergo at least twice weekly testing during the 10-day observation period; and
- Continue to quarantine for all extracurricular activities at school, including sports, and activities within the community setting
- Guidance on athletics and extracurriculars will be provided separately at a later date.
The state's universal masking requirement for indoor settings is meant to reduce the need for social distancing so that all schools can return to full-time, in-person learning. It is also meant to help protect unvaccinated students, especially with the rise of new variants such as the Delta Variant. The mask requirement also means that students will not need to stay home from school if they were exposed to COVID-19, as long as they are asymptomatic.
“In the coming weeks, SCOE will work closely with the Sonoma County Health Officer to fully understand the guidance and support local schools in their reopening efforts,” said Herrington. “As educators, we are eager to welcome students back to a school environment that feels much closer to ‘normal.’”
Herrington encouraged families with age-eligible youth to take advantage of upcoming vaccination clinics.
Sonoma County’s vaccination rate for youth ages 12-17, 42.5%, is currently significantly higher than the state average of 34.3%. Over the late spring and summer, SCOE has partnered with the county, local school districts, and Curative to host vaccination clinics at local school sites. While celebrating this progress, SCOE hopes to see even higher vaccination rates as a vital way to protect student health and ensure that the fall semester goes as smoothly as possible.
“Getting your student vaccinated is one of the best ways to ensure a healthy return to school with the least possible interruptions to in-person learning, sports, and extracurriculars,” said Herrington.
Information on these free clinics is available at scoe.org/vaccines.