By Kathy Chouteau
Starting Wednesday, public and private elementary schools (TK-6th grade) in Contra Costa County can submit online applications to local health and education officials to allow on-campus, in-person instruction, according to Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS).
Middle and high schools are not eligible to submit waiver applications at this time.
In its announcement, CCHS pointed to state guidelines that waivers may be granted “when requested by a local superintendent (or charter/private school equivalent), in consultation with labor, parent and community organizations. Local health officers must review local community epidemiological data, consider other public health interventions and consult with the California Department of Public Health when considering a waiver request.”
Schools will direct applications to the Contra Costa County Office of Education for the initial review, before it will be submitted to CCHS for further consideration. When applying, school districts will need to provide an overview of how they would safely conduct in-person classes and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
A checklist with safety measures schools must employ in order to reopen has been established by CCHS and the County Office of Education. They include but are not limited to having a plan for COVID testing, establishing a school contact person to help CCHS with contact tracing if needed, illustrating how shared surfaces will be cleaned, demonstrating proper use of face coverings, showing how students will be kept in small, continuous groups and more.
Application reviews by local and state officials will take approximately ten days, per CCHS, with the state making the final determination whether or not to approve requests. Contra Costa County schools can’t reopen unless granted a waiver by local and state health officials due to being located in a county that’s on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list.
“We feel like we’ve reached a point where it makes sense to consider requests from elementary schools to reopen,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, health officer for Contra Costa County. “Our role will be to ensure that schools have a solid plan in place to protect their students and staff and show us how they will work with the health department when there is a case to prevent further spread of the virus.”
The state provided an overview of the waiver process for elementary schools in early August, but CCHS held off on accepting waiver applications until this week due to a spike in county COVID-19 occurrences at that time.
Although school districts can submit applications, CCHS cautions that waiver requests “may not be granted if the plan does not meet state or local health requirements, or if data show worsening conditions in the community.”
Applications and all supporting documents must be submitted via the online form a minimum of 14 days before the requested reopening date. Click here to see the application. For more info about CCHS, click here. For more info about the County Office of Education, click here.