Despite Newsom’s Mandate, Some Elementary Schools Might Be Able To Reopen
With COVID-19 cases surging throughout the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom last week announced strict new measures that forbid school districts in counties with high case counts from reopening their campuses.
But the order includes fine print giving districts the chance to seek waivers that would allow them to reopen elementary schools even if their county remains on the state’s monitoring list for those with high infection rates.
The Cajon Valley Union School District, which serves most of El Cajon and parts of Rancho San Diego, is planning on applying for a waiver with the San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency. And Poway Unified is “definitely considering” it, a spokeswoman said.
“The waiver process makes a lot of sense, and maybe the governor should have started there so districts could prove that we are ready,” said David Miyashiro, the Cajon Valley Union superintendent. “A lot of districts in San Diego County are complaining that it’s not safe, we shouldn’t open. Those are excuses because they didn't prepare.”
The state’s new rules released on Friday require that a county must be off the state’s monitoring list for COVID-19 cases for 14 days before its school sites could reopen. If the school year were to start today, San Diego County would not meet this criterion.
Miyashiro said from his perspective the order is bad public policy.
“To treat all school districts the same, and to shut us all down at the same time, I think it’s a huge mistake,” Miyashiro said.
Newsom’s mandate says districts can submit waivers to their county health agency, which 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."
Corey Egel, a spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health, said only elementary schools will be considered for the waiver because young children are less likely to spread COVID-19 or become seriously ill from the virus.
Sarah Sweeney, spokeswoman for the San Diego Department of Health and Human Services, said the county has not yet received any requests.
Miyashiro said Cajon Valley’s will be submitted soon.
“My team is in the process of putting something together now because we fully intend to show the governor and to show our public health that our programs are running safely,” Miyashiro said. “We’re following every guideline to a tee, and we’re vigilant about safety.”
Beginning in April, Cajon Valley Union piloted a full reopening by starting a child care program for the children of essential workers. Miyashiro said his staff used this opportunity to figure out the safest way to fully reopen schools for in-person learning in the fall. He said the program has run for months without a single case of COVID-19.
He said these months have allowed his staff to fine-tune their safety measures.
“Safety is based practice, it’s not based on theory,” Miyashiro said. “Any time you learn a new safety protocol, you start by training and practice.”