Adopting policy for COVID-19 mitigation during campus reopening

After an extended period of campus closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local leaders are weighing what actions and resources will be needed for schools to physically reopen. As board members and superintendents review guidance issued by CSBA, state agencies and other organizations, it is important to remember that the reopening process will look different in every community. Each district will need to develop plans based on its own needs and circumstances.

“As long as COVID-19 still presents a risk to the community, any decision to reopen school campuses has to be made after consulting local health officials, soliciting input from parents/guardians and the community, and determining that the district has the resources and capacity to implement recommended safety precautions,” said Bob Tuerck, CSBA Assistant Executive Director, Policy and Governance Technology Services. “Districts should only open campuses once they have engaged in comprehensive planning and are confident in their ability to provide a safe environment in which effective teaching and learning can occur.”

Planning for the reopening of school campuses should involve staff at all levels and in all departments. Districts should also consult with health officials, students, parents/guardians, neighboring school districts, the county office of education, and other interested community members.

To assist districts in planning for the reopening of campuses, CSBA issued new sample Board Policy 0470 – COVID-19 Mitigation Plan in a special release on June 5, 2020. The policy covers a broad range of topics that should be considered by districts, including student support, instructional approaches, scheduling, evaluation and remediation of academic loss, health screening of students, student absences, social distancing, personal protective equipment, hygiene practices, sanitization of facilities and equipment, food services, staff assignments, staff leave provisions, contact tracing, nondiscrimination based on medical condition, and community relations. Because many of these issues are not directly reflected in current law, this policy presents options and best practices, which boards are encouraged to revise based on local needs.

To respond to the unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19, it is likely that districts will need to adopt unique strategies that may conflict with existing policies. Because it is impractical for boards to revise numerous policies to address COVID-19 and then revise them again in the future, BP 0470 contains a clear statement that it supersedes any conflicting policies or administrative regulations until the district determines that the policy is no longer needed. At that time, the new policy should be removed from the district’s policy manual.

BP 0470 is consistent with executive orders issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom and with guidance from the California Department of Education, California Department of Public Health, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Districts should monitor changes in executive orders and guidance and update their policy and practices accordingly. However, to the extent that any federal, state or local order conflicts with BP 0470, the policy makes it clear that the order would govern even if the policy is not updated.

Adopting a single policy on the district’s COVID-19 response provides a clear method of communicating to students, parents/guardians, staff and the community the district’s expectations and efforts to provide a safe and healthy campus. The district should continue to provide regular communications to inform all stakeholders about COVID-19, how it is transmitted and might be prevented, and the district’s efforts to minimize the health risks.

Districts should be aware that, despite their best efforts, it is possible that increases in the spread of the disease may occur that require them to consider reclosing campuses. Therefore, comprehensive planning for the reopening of campuses should also consider what actions the district will need to take if campus closure becomes necessary. Districts will need to be flexible during this time to adapt to changing circumstances and continually act in the best interests of students.