When Ventura County schools start welcoming students back to class, it’s not going to be business as usual. Schools will be required to follow important guidelines designed to allow the gradual restart of in-person learning while limiting the spread of the coronavirus.
Perhaps the biggest change will be the schedule. Since schools need to ensure social distancing both inside and outside the classroom, it will be impossible to bring all students back at once. That’s why most schools are planning to use hybrid schedules that have a portion of the student body in class on different days of the week. On the days they’re not on campus, students will receive instruction via distance learning. Some schools may also continue to offer the option of full-time distance learning for families who prefer it.
Parents will be instructed to keep kids home whenever they have a temperature or show symptoms. At a minimum, masks will be required on campus for all staff and students in third grade and above. Schools will make every effort to keep groups of students together to reduce mixing throughout the day. That way, if someone tests positive for COVID-19, it’s more likely a single classroom or building would be temporarily shut down instead of an entire school.
When students return, schools will intensify their efforts to frequently clean and disinfect facilities and equipment. Playgrounds will likely be off limits and supplies will only be shared if they’re cleaned before each use. When it comes to school sports, training and conditioning are allowed outdoors if social distancing can be maintained and students are kept in consistent groups. Games and competitions remain on hold until further guidance is received from state or local public health agencies.
Despite all the precautions, it’s unlikely schools will be immune from the spread of the virus. “Because we can only control the school environment, we inherit the conditions that exist within our communities,” says Dr. Antonio Castro, who’s leading the effort to develop reopening plans at the Ventura County Office of Education. “So even if we’re very disciplined, we can’t account for the spread of the virus that can happen when students and staff are not at school.”
Ventura County Public Health (VCPH) has a team of nurses dedicated to helping schools keep the virus under control. Schools will notify VCPH of suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19. If a student or employee tests positive, they will isolate at home. VCPH will work with school liaisons on contact tracing to notify people who may have been exposed. Affected individuals will be referred for testing and may be asked to quarantine at home as well.
Keeping the virus at bay when students return to campus will require everyone’s diligence and cooperation. By working together, we’ll ensure that the first steps toward fully reopening schools will be as safe as possible. More information about reopening plans is available in VCOE’s Framework for Reopening Ventura County Schools at www.vcoe.org/framework.