Today, Ventura County moved off the most restrictive tier of the state’s COVID-19 watch list, which means schools could soon have the option of reopening for in-person instruction at all grade levels. If Ventura County maintains its status for two additional weeks, schools may choose to reopen as early as Wednesday, October 21. However, it will be up to each individual school district to determine exactly when they can safely begin welcoming students back to class. Some schools may choose to reopen their campuses later than October 21 for a variety of reasons.
When they do reopen, schools will need to maintain strict social distancing, keeping students and staff at least six feet away from each other. This means classrooms can only be filled to a fraction of their normal capacity. Schools are also required to keep the same groups of students together to the greatest extent possible to limit the number of people each student is exposed to throughout the day.
In elementary grades, many schools will comply with these rules by bringing only a portion of students to class each day. On the days they are not in class, students will continue receiving instruction through distance learning. This hybrid approach will allow all students to have some in-class instruction a few days per week.
The situation becomes much more complicated in middle school and high school where students switch classrooms and mix with different groups multiple times a day according to each student’s unique schedule. Because of this and the fact that classrooms cannot be filled to capacity, it will be extremely difficult to create a workable in-person schedule at the middle and high school levels. As a result, some schools may determine that the best option is to continue with full-time distance learning.
In addition to scheduling and safety considerations, school districts need to ensure there are enough teachers available to resume in-person instruction. Many teachers are in high risk groups, which could prevent them from returning to class. Others may have reservations about being in a crowded school environment while the pandemic is ongoing.
Another issue that complicates reopening is transportation. Because of social distancing requirements, school buses will not be able to carry the usual number of students. It’s very likely there will not be a sufficient supply of buses and drivers to provide transportation to all students who may need it.
“We recognize that people have passionate feelings on both sides of the school reopening issue, and we want nothing more than to get students safely back to class,” said Stan Mantooth, Ventura County Superintendent of Schools. “I urge everyone to understand that school district leaders are working to reopen in the most responsible way, which may mean spending additional time on distance learning at some schools.”
All Ventura County schools have prepared detailed reopening procedures that will help ensure the safety of students and staff when they return to campus. They include:
- Face coverings will be required for all staff and for students in third grade and above.
- Classrooms will be arranged to keep everyone at least six feet apart.
- Students will be kept in consistent groups (cohorts) as much as possible.
- Parents will be instructed to keep students home whenever they have a temperature or show symptoms.
- Anyone experiencing symptoms at school will be sent home.
- Facilities and equipment will be disinfected on a regular basis.
- School officials will work with Ventura County Public Health on contact tracing if positive cases arise.
- Athletic training and conditioning are allowed with social distancing, but actual competitions are on hold pending further guidance from public health officials.
- Staff will receive COVID-19 testing as required by state and local regulations.
- Staff and students will receive health screenings on a regular basis.
Each school district is communicating independently with parents and students about their reopening timelines. For additional information about reopening protocols, see the Framework for Reopening Ventura County Schools at www.vcoe.org/framework.
About the Ventura County Office of Education
The Ventura County Office of Education provides a broad array of fiscal, training and technology support services to local school districts, helping to maintain and improve lifelong educational opportunities for children, educators and community members. VCOE also operates schools that serve students with severe disabilities and behavioral issues, provides career education courses, and coordinates countywide academic competitions including Mock Trial and the Ventura County Science Fair. Learn more at: www.vcoe.org.