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California school reopening guidelines include continuing online learning

Local districts have for weeks been working on their own guidelines to reopening, some of which hint at drastic changes to public schooling.

SACRAMENTO, Calif — California's Department of Education has released a detailed how-to guide to safely reopen schools in the age of face masks and physical distancing.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond says it will serve as a road map for school districts as they prepare for the return of classes. The 55-page manual released Monday is titled “Stronger Together: A Guidebook for the Safe Reopening of California’s Public Schools.”

“The guidance sets the bar high. Safety first, our top priority based on the information that we have from health experts,” said Thurmond. 

Guidelines include recommendations on face coverings for staff and students and recommendations on the importance of taking temperatures before students and staff enter the campus.

Thurmond says many parents have also expressed an interest in continuing online learning, which will be incorporated.

The California Department of Education suggested something they call "blended learning." It's where some students attend class in person while others continue instruction online.

“This is going to be a very difficult task for Sac City Unified,” said Jorge Aguilar, superintendent of Sacramento City Unified School District

Capacity will also be a key issue for schools like Elk Grove Unified School District.

“Every one of our students have something unique that they connect to and so in having to figure out who is able to come in and when is going to be one of the biggest challenges,” said Xanthi Pinkerton, spokesperson for Elk Grove Unified. 

Schools across California have been closed since mid-March when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order due to the pandemic.

It's important to note that local districts have for weeks been working on their own guidelines to reopening, some of which hint at drastic changes to public schooling.

The Sacramento County Office of Education, collaborating with the 13 local school districts and the county public health office, released guidelines last Tuesday for reopening schools in the county.

The guidelines say schools will have to have additional sanitation precautions, face coverings and social distancing. School campuses will move desks further apart, serve individual plated or boxed meals, keep students in smaller groups and stagger lunches, recesses and other transition times in order to keep student cohorts from mixing.

The guidelines even recommend classes be staggered, moved to half-days or block schedules in order to maintain a smaller number of students, as well as eliminating field trips, assemblies, dances, rallies and sports that can't practice social distancing.

School officials in Modesto and Stockton say they worry "not everybody is going to come back" to school next year because of the guidelines.

Neither city's school districts currently have guidelines in place, but officials said they are working to have them ready soon.

However, at least one thing is for sure, costs will be going up as schools try to reopen.

“We are looking at additional expenditures that have to be made to secure PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] to make sure our staff and students are all safe and healthy," said Aguilar.

Ultimately, Thurmond says school reopenings will be decided locally, with each school district making the call on when they'll open up again. 

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