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State rules require posting of a plan before opening

Berkeley, California (Tuesday, March 09, 2021) - With science and data showing that it is safe for all grades of public and private schools to open for in-person instruction, Berkeley Public Health urges schools to open as soon as possible.

While the decision to open schools lies with school districts and independent schools, the state and City have provided tools, guidance and support to help schools in Berkeley open -- and stay open through actions that minimize spread. The local requirements we use are straightforward and intended to be simple: the state's.

For the past year, Berkeley Public Health has provided extra support to help schools and the school district align with state guidelines.  We regularly visit campuses to help schools prepare for reopening and operate more safely. We also provide on-going consultation to any school that requests it.  As an added incentive, COVID-19 vaccinations have expanded to include all teachers, staff and administration at schools.

This guidance isn't new. Berkeley Public Health stated last October that it was safe to open elementary schools and, last November, middle and high schools. Starting Wednesday, when the county is in a lower risk-level tier, schools which plan to reopen must post a plan 5 days prior to opening in accordance with the state guidance on the school website.

We know that not every family will send their children to school. Not every teacher will return. We also know that kids don't just receive an academic education in schools, but also invaluable socio-emotional support. We know that each child's well-being affects an entire family. If schools aren't open already, they should open soon. It is sound public health.

Schools adapt for pandemic safety

In a school environment, ensuring safety for all means implementing measures everyone is familiar with, including:

  • face masks on all
  • stable groups to limit mixing among different groups
  • increased physical distance between each child or adult, including parents
  • Improved ventilation
  • Hand hygiene and cleaning
  • screening students and staff to identify COVID-19 symptoms, separate the ill and send them home immediately

What does that look like? Limited mixing among classrooms. No assemblies. Everyone wears a mask. Tighter scrutiny of illness to make sure the sick stay home. If there's a positive case in a classroom, all exposed students and adults quarantine at home for 10 days. More windows are open. Teachers and staff have increased testing. 

The state's rules offer flexibility. For example, when six feet between students is not possible, the state asks schools to demonstrate good-faith effort and add additional mitigation strategies to ensure at least 4 feet of distance. Options that schools can use to increase physical distance can include strategies like staggered schedules, more time outdoors, and using alternate spaces like a library, gym or a cafeteria.

For more details about requirements, see the state's COVID-19 K-12 School Guidance.

Everyone plays a role in school safety

Not every family will choose to send their children back to school. For those who do, each one will have to take steps to keep their children and schools safe.

Some rules are simple. Everyone will need to wear face coverings, wash their hands, and keep distance. It's good for parents to talk these over with kids so everyone is on the same page.

Some rules require greater individual responsibility. Before the pandemic, the standards for when children came to school with a cough or cold may have been more lax. State rules are strict. Sick students must stay home.

Science supports school re-openings

Studies show that children get COVID-19 less frequently, and have less severe disease. Children with COVID-19 most often get it from household contact. Transmission among or from students is uncommon. Data also indicate that the risk of transmission in elementary schools can be low.

You can read about those studies on the science section of the state's COVID-19 school site.

The key is to put safeguards and strategies in place to support safe schools.  Berkeley Public Health will continue to support schools to open and remain open.



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