ORANGE COUNTY, CA — Orange County’s Board of Education faces the 2020/21 school year armed with a shipment of protective gear from the state, and a white paper guideline to get children back onto campus for the fall semester.
A meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday will discuss the recommendation and allow for comments for and against the motion. Parents and educators can have their say on the matter during Mondays’ board meeting by filling out a form securing their spot at the virtual microphone.
In June, Orange County’s board of education announced a reopening guidance plan for all districts under their umbrella. In early July, OCDE received its first shipment of no-contact infrared thermometers and boxes of protective equipment, including almost 85,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, over 8,500 N95 masks, and over 1 million disposable masks for adults and children. Those items were disseminated to each school district, to provide a safe return to school for students and staff.
Even still, for the younger children, those masks are not necessary, the board says.
Meanwhile, on Monday, neighboring Los Angeles Unified School District will not return to campus this fall, according to Superintendent Austin Beutner. San Diego Unified School District has also followed suit, according to reports.
The difference in reopening plans mirrors the convoluted shutdowns and differences of opinion on masks and social distancing that have plagued California since the March 13 shutdown began. The board of education worked with a panel of area health and mental health experts to design their latest back to school plan.
“K-12 children represent the lowest risk cohort for Covid-19. Because of that fact, social distancing and masking of children is unnecessary and therefore not recommended,” the OCDE reports.
In the reopening recommendations, OCDE recommends that all staff “should use cloth face coverings” and “can use face shields, if available” to enable younger children to see their faces. It also reads that “students should be encouraged to use cloth face coverings, masks or face shields.”
The board also mentions that keeping children away from schools could be hazardous to their mental health.
“School mental health professionals should be involved in shaping messages to students and their families about the response to the pandemic,” the board writes. “Fear-based messages used to encourage strict physical distancing may cause problems when schools reopen.”
Mental health experts have advised that there may be “anxiety and agoraphobia in students,” as well as difficulty transitioning back into the school setting, and the changes in the environment and experience of classroom learning during a pandemic.
Those same fears are shown in those who oppose the plans. A Change.org petition against reopening schools without a universal safety plan for all has gathered over 22,000 signatures.
“Our teachers, staff, and students must not return to school unless our Orange County School Districts implement safety measures guided by the CBOE’s recommendations,” the organizers wrote in opposition to the reopening.
On the petition, teacher Brittany Walters wrote:
“I am a teacher and parent, and going back to school full time without any precautions is completely irresponsible. COVID-19 infections are increasing steadily, and we are no where near getting it under control. We are worse off now than we were when we shut down schools in March.”
According to the board of education, all of Orange County’s school districts are developing their own individual reopening strategies based upon the board of education, state, and federal guidelines.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending students be present in classrooms rather than conduct remote learning.
“The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school,” The AAP says on its website.”The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy-time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often result in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.”
The AAP does recommend that middle and high school-age children should wear face coverings, and be required to maintain a 6-foot distance whenever possible. Also, they recommend desks be placed 3 to 6 feet apart. They have suggested that all schools be “flexible and nimble” in responding to changing information and that “administrators must be willing to refine approaches when specific policies are not working.”
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This article originally appeared on the Newport Beach-Corona Del Mar Patch