Temperature checks, masks for teachers: California releases stringent school reopening rules

Dustin Gardiner June 5, 2020 

Principal Anita Iverson-Comelo speaks with The Chronicle at Bridges Academy at Melrose in Oakland. The state released guidelines for reopening schools in the fall.
1of2Principal Anita Iverson-Comelo speaks with The Chronicle at Bridges Academy at Melrose in Oakland. The state released guidelines for reopening schools in the fall.Photo: Yalonda M. James / The Chronicle
Willie Ramirez gives his son Akeem Ramirez, 8 years old, a kiss goodbye during morning drop-off at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy in San Francisco, California, US, on Friday, March 13, 2020.
2of2Willie Ramirez gives his son Akeem Ramirez, 8 years old, a kiss goodbye during morning drop-off at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy in San Francisco, California, US, on Friday, March 13, 2020.Photo: Michael Short / Special to The Chronicle

SACRAMENTO — When California’s more than 6 million K-12 students return in a few months, they will face a starkly different learning environment.

Students should have their temperatures taken every morning, with no-touch thermometers. Teachers should wear face masks or shields. Desks should be spaced 6 feet apart, separated by partitions or staggered to avoid face-to-face contact.

Those changes are included in the state’s long-awaited strongly recommended guidelines for reopening schools that the California Department of Public Health released Friday.

The guidelines closely mirror a draft of the guidelines reported by The Chronicle last week, and were expected to be released last week. But the guidelines were delayed as Gov. Gavin Newsom said health officials went “back and forth” over the rules.

School districts and teachers unions have said the checklist will be logistically challenging and costly and could be impossible to complete given Newsom’s proposed budget cuts.

The guideline recommend that meals be served in classrooms, and classes be confined to separate areas of the schoolyard for recess. Students and staff who show symptoms of COVID-19 will be required to wear masks and wait in an isolated room until they can leave school.

Public health officials wrote that the guidelines are “based on the best available public health data at this time, international best practices currently employed, and the practical realities of managing school operations.”

If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, schools can make temporary closures. That could include the closure of specific classrooms or offices and a 14-day quarantine period for those exposed.

The guidelines suggest that teachers expose students to fresh air as much as possible by opening windows and, weather permitting, holding part-day classes outside.

Even before Newsom’s administration released the guidelines, teachers and school officials warned they won’t be ready to reopen with the level of precautions recommended. Newsom has proposed cutting school funding by about $7 billion to help erase a $54.3 billion deficit.

Members of the California Education Coalition, which includes groups representing labor unions, administrators, school boards and parents, have said schools may have to continue distance learning.

“Deep budget cuts to public education will stand in the way of preparing our schools for the safe return of students and educators and further prolong the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said E. Toby Boyd, president of California Teachers Association.

Schools should also have a plan to continue education, and other services like nutritional support, during those closure periods.

To help schools reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, California will provide face shields for every teacher and no-touch thermometers for every school.

The Department of Public Health plans to distribute stockpiles of those supplies, according to a news release, to district, charter and private schools, as well as childcare facilities. Among the initial shipments planned:

• No-touch thermometers for every school and childcare facility; more than 47,000 total

• Face shields for every teacher and childcare provider; about 2.4 million total

• Over 14 million cloth face coverings for staff and students

• Over 16 million disposable masks

• 123,000 N95 respirators for school-based health professionals, including those who interact with students showing symptoms

• 143,000 gallons of hand sanitizer

Meanwhile, Alameda County announced that, effective Monday, daycare centers and other childcare providers can resume services to all children, not just the children of essential workers.

Childcare providers are expected to keep kids grouped in “social bubbles” of no more than 12 individuals, including adults and children, according to the county’s health order. These groups should not mix.

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