State releases health and safety guidance for schools; funding needed for implementation

The California Department of Public Health on Friday, June 5, unveiled the administration’s health and safety guidelines and considerations as schools prepare to resume in-person instruction.

Among the recommendations are that all staff and students be screened before entering school facilities and that staff use cloth face coverings at all times — gloves and surgical masks are necessary for food service workers and employees with routine contact with the public. Students should be encouraged to wear the cloth coverings when physical distancing isn’t possible, according to the guidance.

The document’s release comes amid state budget negotiations and two days after the Legislature released a 2020–21 budget that prioritizes education and rejects the $8.1 billion in cuts to Proposition 98 funding called for in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May Revision. CSBA, both independently and through its membership in the Education Coalition, comprised of the state’s nine largest statewide education associations, continues to caution that schools cannot safely reopen campuses with the funding level proposed in the May Revision.

The Governor’s budget lacks specific and sufficient funding to effectively enact COVID-19 mitigation strategies in schools, such as testing, contact tracing screening and deep cleaning, as well as modified procedures related to scheduling, transportation, classroom size and instruction. Early concerns expressed by CSBA and others about the state needing to work with schools in procuring personal protective equipment are addressed in the guidance as noted below.

“While we appreciate the state’s guidance and its grounding in local public health considerations, we remain greatly concerned that schools will not be able to meaningfully implement these recommended safety practices without the necessary funding and resources,” said CSBA President Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez. “Greater investment from the state and federal government is required for our schools to reopen safely and to protect our communities from this devastating virus.”

Recommended equipment, training, practices and considerations

The guidance covers 10 topics, including recommended practices to intensify cleaning, disinfection and ventilation; implement distancing inside and outside of the classroom; train and check for COVID-19 signs and symptoms; and plan for when a staff member, student or visitor becomes sick.

Responding to calls from CSBA, the Education Coalition and others for the state to use its purchasing power — rather than relying on LEAs to purchase equipment —the state announced that it has procured the following supplies to distribute to schools and child care centers:

  • More than 47,000 no-touch thermometers for every school and child care facility
  • Face shields for every teacher and childcare provider (approximately 2.4 million)
  • Over 14 million cloth face coverings for staff and students
  • Over 16 million disposable masks
  • 123,000 N95 masks for school-based health professionals, including those interacting with symptomatic students
  • 143,000 gallons of hand sanitizer

The distribution of these supplies will be through the California Department of General Services and the Office of Emergency Services, with the DGS also creating a procurement process for schools and child care centers to access on an ongoing basis.

The state guidance says that LEAs should train all staff and families on enhanced sanitation practices, physical distancing guidelines, use of face covering, screening practices and COVID-19 specific symptom identification. The document also includes a thorough breakdown (found in section 10) of the recommended steps when a student, teacher or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 and has exposed others at the school.

Despite the guidance’s lengthy list of staff-intensive and costly protocols, the paramount importance of local conditions, communication and decision-making are consistently highlighted. CSBA has advised the administration that educating families about COVID-19 mitigation practices would be better handled by the state or by county health officials, rather than be the sole responsibilities of LEAs. To achieve this, standardized videos and online training (produced at the county and/or state level) could be sent out through school communication networks. CSBA will continue to address this issue moving forward.

The following are some of the guidance’s most significant measures and considerations:

Healthy hygiene practices

  • Consider portable hand washing stations throughout a site and near classrooms to minimize movement and congregations in bathrooms to the extent practicable.
  • Develop routines enabling students and staff to regularly wash their hands at staggered intervals.
  • Teach and reinforce use of cloth face coverings, masks or face shields. Face coverings are most essential when physical distancing is not practicable. Teachers can use face shields, if available, which enable younger students to see their teachers’ faces and to avoid potential barriers to phonological instruction.

 Intensify cleaning, disinfection and ventilation

  • Staff should clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces within school and on school buses at least daily and, as practicable, frequently throughout the day by trained custodial staff.
  • Buses should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected daily and after transporting any individual who is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Drivers should be provided disinfectant wipes and disposable gloves to support disinfection of frequently touched surfaces during the day.

Implement distancing inside and outside of the classroom

  • Minimize contact at school between students, staff, families and the community at the beginning and end of the school day. Stagger arrival and drop off-times and locations as consistently as possible as to minimize scheduling challenges for families.
  • Maximize space between seating and desks. Distance teacher and other staff desks at least six feet away from student desks. Consider ways to establish separation of students through other means if practicable, such as, six feet between desks, partitions between desks, markings on classroom floors to promote distancing or arranging desks in a way that minimizes face-to-face contact.
  • Serve meals in classrooms or outdoors instead of cafeterias or group dining rooms where practicable. Serve individually plated or bagged meals. Avoid sharing of foods and utensils and buffet or family-style meals.
  • Consider holding recess activities in separated areas designated by class.

Check for signs and symptoms:

  • Actively encourage staff and students who are sick or who have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19 to stay home. Develop policies that encourage sick staff and students to stay at home without fear of reprisal, and ensure staff, students and students’ families are aware of these policies.
  • Implement screening and other procedures for all staff and students entering the facility. Conduct visual wellness checks of all students and take students’ temperature with a no-touch thermometer.
  • Monitor staff and students throughout the day for signs of illness; send home students and staff with a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, cough or other COVID-19 symptoms.

Plan for when a staff member, student or visitor becomes sick

  • Work with school administrators, nurses and other health care providers to identify an isolation room or area to separate anyone who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Any students or staff exhibiting symptoms should immediately be required to wear a face covering and be required to wait in an isolation area until they can be transported home or to a health care facility, as soon as practicable.
  • Advise sick staff members and students not to return until they have met CDC criteria to discontinue home isolation, including three days with no fever, symptoms have improved and 10 days since symptoms first appeared.

Maintain healthy operations

  • Monitor staff absenteeism and have a roster of trained back-up staff where available.
  • Designate a staff liaison or liaisons to be responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns. Employees should know about who they are and how to contact them.
  • Support staff and students who are at higher risk for severe illness or who cannot safely distance from household contacts at higher risk, by providing options such as telework, virtual learning or independent study.

Guidance leans on local conditions; CDE guidance coming this week

Despite the guidance’s lengthy list of staff-intensive and costly protocols, the paramount importance of local conditions, communication and decision-making are consistently highlighted.

“All decisions about following this guidance should be made in collaboration with local health officials and other authorities,” the document states, adding that “implementation of this guidance should be tailored for each setting (such as the size and type of school).

The state also importantly notes that “the guidance is not intended to revoke or repeal any employee rights, either statutory, regulatory or collectively bargained, and is not exhaustive.”

The document outlines the importance of a stakeholder engagement process to determine issues such as whether “staff, students and families have the tools, information, resources and ability to successfully adhere to or implement the new measures.” The state also notes that further guidance is forthcoming for areas such as school-based sports and extracurricular activities, and the current guidance will be modified as new data and practices emerge.

More detailed guidance is expected from the California Department of Education in its reopening document, Stronger Together: A Guidebook for the Safe Reopening of California’s Public Schools. The CDE will begin releasing the guidance on Monday, June 8, with a news conference walking through the report’s recommendations broadcast on the CDE Facebook page at 11:15 a.m.

CSBA sample reopening schools policy available; CSBA reopening schools report coming

To serve governing boards, CSBA on Friday released a new sample policy to assist LEAs in planning for the reopening of school campuses and other COVID-19 considerations. The comprehensive board policy outlines key considerations, including safe and sanitized facilities; attendance and enrollment; staffing, teaching and learning; equity; special education; supporting social-emotional and mental health; and communication with the community. The new policy is available to GAMUT Policy subscribers.

To complement the new policy, on June 9, CSBA will release The Uncertain Road Ahead: Reopening Schools in the Time of COVID-19, an examination of what it will take to reopen schools safely and effectively, with in-depth resources focused on the areas of Health and Safety, High-Quality Teaching and Learning, Equity, Funding and Flexibility. The report also contains an overview of CSBA’s efforts to advocate for the resources, guidance, funding and support schools need to navigate this crisis.

CSBA will continue to keep members informed of any developments and advocate for a budget and guidance that supports schools in the effort to serve all students and respond to COVID-19.