Education and the coronavirus crisis: What’s the latest?

Gov. Newsom on Friday announced that the state is replacing the county monitoring list with a new color-coded list that includes four categories that will guide when businesses can reopen and schools can offer in-person instruction.
The new coding system, which goes into effect on Monday Aug. 31, includes four tiers, each of which is assigned a color. Purple, or Tier 1, indicates “widespread” incidence of the virus. Red (Tier 2) indicates “substantial” incidence, while orange (Tier 3) indicates “moderate” and yellow (Tier 4) indicates “minimal” incidence of the virus in the county. The assigned color or tier will be based on a combination of the number of new positive cases per 100,000 population and the percentage of positive test results of the total number of tests administered.
Go here to see where your county ranks on the tiered list. Check out this Q&A from the Los Angeles Times. 

The situation for school openings and closings will remain effectively the same. Tier 1 — colored purple — is equivalent to the previous county monitoring list. Schools in counties within Tier 1 “are not permitted to reopen for in-person instruction,” unless they have received waivers tor children in K-6 grades. According to EdSource’s tally, “purple,” or Tier 1 counties include 5.3 million, or 87%, of California’s public school students, as well as hundreds of thousands of other students in private and parochial schools.
However, the new color-coded system did generate some changes from the state monitoring list — as well as confusion in at least one county regarding plans for offering in-school instruction.
As a result of the new tiered ranking, both San Francisco and Napa County will now be ranked “red,” giving them permission to open schools for in-person instruction in two weeks, assuming that they continue to meet the criteria for that ranking during that time. However, while they might have the ability to open, that does not mean that they will, as Jill Tucker reports in the San Francisco Chronicle.
There was considerable confusion regarding the ranking of Orange County, which came off the state’s monitoring list less than a week ago (on Aug. 23). Some public and private schools were planning to open their schools for in person instruction after Labor Day, after they had stayed off the list for the required two weeks. But according to the new ranking system Orange County is now in Tier 1, with a purple color code, which means they couldn’t offer in-classroom instruction.
Gov. Newsom hinted in his Friday briefing that some counties would come off the Tier 1 list very soon. That might apply to Orange County. In a tweet on Friday, Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s new public health director, said Friday that “as long as Orange County continues trending in a positive way,” K-12 schools will be in a position to resume on-site instruction as early as Sept. 8.
However, on Saturday, the county’s health care agency tweeted again saying it was requesting “additional clarification” from the state, and that the county is still “in limbo.” For more explanation on the situation in Orange County, check out the website of the county’s Department of Education here.

Update re: Gov.’s new system. We’ve requested additional clarification from State re: schools as there are several counties, including #OC, who are in limbo as we were part way thru prior 14 day cycle to re-open. State indicated we would get credit for those days. More to come.
— OC Health Care Agency (@ochealth) August 29, 2020

Counties are rated purple if their case numbers exceed 7 per 100,000 residents or the fraction of positive test results is more than 8%, indicating that Covid-19 is “widespread.” A county is rated red if it records 4 to 7 new cases per 100,000 residents or 5% to 8% of total tests are positive, indicating “substantial” spread.
Schools in counties on the purple list cannot reopen until their county has moved to red for 14 days, unless they receive an elementary waiver for students in grades K-6, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s secretary of Health and Human Services, during a news briefing.
Counties reporting 1 to 3.9 new daily cases per 100,000 residents, or 2% to 4.9% positive results out of the total tested, are rated orange for “moderate” spread; and those with less than 1 new daily case per 100,000 residents and less than 2% of total tests that are positive are rated yellow for “minimal” spread.
This is what the guidance from the California Dept. of Public Health on Aug. 28, called Blueprint for a Safer Economy, said about schools specifically:
Schools may reopen for in-person instruction based on equivalent criteria to the July 17th School Re-opening Framework previously announced. That framework remains in effect except that Tier 1 is substituted for the previous County Data Monitoring List (which has equivalent criteria to Tier 1). Schools in counties within Tier 1 are not permitted to reopen for in-person instruction, with an exception for waivers granted by local health departments for TK-6 grades. Schools that are not authorized to reopen, including TK-6 schools that have not received a waiver, may provide structured, in-person supervision and services to students under the Guidance for Small Cohorts/Groups of Children and Youth.
Schools are eligible for reopening fully for in-person instruction following California School Sector Specific Guidelines once the county is off Tier 1 for 14 days, which is similar to being off the County Data Monitoring List for at least 14 days.
Potential re-closure should follow the July 17th School Re-opening Framework.
Louis Freedberg contributed to this news update on Saturday, Aug. 29 to reflect recent developments. 
—Theresa Harrington

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