Despite a staggering increase in COVID-19 cases and ongoing testing shortages, Santa Clara County officials made it clear Friday night that school districts should not revert to online learning.
In a joint statement, Director of Public Health Dr Sara Cody and Superintendent of Schools Mary Ann Dewan urged school districts to “find ways to coexist and live with COVID” instead of walking away from home. middle of a national wave of the omicron variant.
The two senior officials weighed in after a chaotic week for Bay Area public schools which saw an increase in the number of cases, staff shortages, campus closings and a large protest. But even the current difficulties facing districts in the region would be pale compared to the consequences of online education, they warned.
“We have learned that in-person education is what (students) need, and distance learning does not support their mental health, emotional health, and academic well-being in the same way that learning does. in person, “Cody said in the video statement released Friday night.
She and Dewan reminded districts that California stopped allowing schools to offer online education instead of in-person classes at the end of last June. Instead, school sites should rely on “multiple layers of risk mitigation strategies” to limit the spread of the virus, Dewan said.
âIt remains extremely important to use all the proven layers of protection: masking, like double masking, vaccinations, reminders for those who are eligible, testing and staying home when sick to avoid further spread, âDewan said.
Some schools had not waited for official guidelines. Milpitas Unified, a district with more than 10,000 enrolled students in Santa Clara County, announced Friday that it will switch to e-learning until January 18 so that students have enough time to complete the periods of 10-day quarantine if they had tested positive for COVID-19.
Hayward Unified decided to switch to virtual education for the same length of time late Friday night, with the school board’s only dissenting voter saying she would prefer the district to be online for an entire month instead.
Earlier in the week, West Contra Costa Unified closed its 54 campuses until Monday due to widespread cases, although it does not plan to offer distance education while it is closed.
And with more than 500 teachers absent and a dozen campuses closed due to staff shortages, teachers at Oakland Unified staged a “work stoppage” on Friday, organizing a caravan to call the district to go online during two weeks. They also demanded that the district mass distribute N95 masks at school sites.
A spokesperson for Oakland Unified later called the protest illegal and defended existing security measures.
Cody and Dewan did not address the specific situations unfolding in Santa Clara County school districts, but rather argued more broadly for a “central goal” of giving students a “solid education.”
âWe’re focused on making sure our kids stay in schools for face-to-face learning,â Cody said.
Most of the Bay Area school districts had abandoned distance learning in the winter and spring months of last year when COVID-19 cases began to decline after a vacation wave. Even the districts that covered declining transmission rates with hybrid learning models were fully reopened at the start of the current school year.
This was before an unprecedented spike in the number of cases caused by the more contagious but less severe omicron variant. The continued increase has strained testing supplies, forcing residents to wait up to four hours to submit nasal swabs that often take days to show results. And studies increasingly show that rapid antigenic tests, which produce faster results, are fallible.
California health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have consistently advocated for vaccinations, regular testing and other safety measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 on school campuses. But they also stressed that in-person learning remains a top priority.
In its official guidelines, the State Department of Public Health notes that school districts should “safely offer and provide comprehensive in-person instruction to all students … even as pandemic dynamics change throughout the year. school, affected by vaccination rates and the potential emergence of variant viruses.