school hallway stock

Two schools in Healdsburg and one in Windsor among those asked to provide more information

In a statement released by the County of Sonoma, the 15 schools which applied for waivers for reopening were identified, though all but one had their waiver denied or sent back for further information and planning.

“After careful review of 15 applications, the County of Sonoma Department of Health Services has approved one local school — Presentation School in Sonoma — to move forward with its waiver request to reopen for in-person instruction. The next phase involves a mandatory consultation and review with the California Department of Public Health,” said the statement.

Thirteen of the schools had applications that “did not include sufficient details and supporting documentation on how they would meet testing and contract tracing requirements.” Those schools have been asked to submit additional information before the county can determine if their plans meet state requirements for waivers. All of the schools but one are private schools. The lone public school is a tiny elementary school on the Kashia Rancheria.

The 13 schools are:  

●         Harvest Christian School, Petaluma

●         Redwood Adventist Academy, Santa Rosa, K-6 

●         Sonoma Country Day School, Santa Rosa

●         Summerfield Waldorf School, Santa Rosa

●         St. Eugene's Cathedral School, Santa Rosa

●         St. Francis Solano School, Sonoma

●         St John the Baptist Catholic School, Healdsburg

●         St. Vincent de Paul Elementary School, Petaluma

●         The Healdsburg School, Healdsburg

●         The Spring Hill School, Petaluma

●         Victory Christian School, Santa Rosa

●         Windsor Christian Academy, Windsor

●         Kashia School, Stewarts Point (application was withdrawn by school)

In addition, one waiver application for Redwood Adventist Academy in Santa Rosa was denied for not meeting the grade limitations set by the state, because they applied for all of their grades, including seventh and eighth. The state requires schools to only include applications for grades TK-6. 

Only TK-6 schools are permitted to apply for waivers given Sonoma County's current COVID-19 state tier status (Tier One/Purple). The County of Sonoma Department of Health Services had asked schools to submit supplemental information by Oct. 6 and expects to begin making decisions about pending waiver applications by Friday, Oct. 9. Any approved applications will then begin the mandatory California Department of Public Health (CDPH) consultation process. 

Sonoma County schools have been closed for in-person instruction since mid-March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The county is currently working with local schools and the CDPH to support the safe reopening of elementary schools that meet the state requirements.

"We know that remote learning is putting a tremendous strain on our families and students," said Susan Gorin, chair of the Board of Supervisors. "We are following the state's guidelines to support elementary schools that can demonstrate that they can reopen safely." 

According to the statement from the county, school closures were part of a broader set of restrictions intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19. With the county's current status, schools cannot open for in-person instruction unless they obtain a waiver from the local health officer or operate under the state's targeted, specialized services cohort guidance. In August, the CDPH developed the COVID-19 and Reopening In-Person Learning Elementary Education Waiver Process, which outlined the process and criteria to allow elementary schools (TK-6) to conduct in-person instruction for a limited set of students in small cohorts. This process requires interested schools to submit robust reopening plans to the local health officer. 

"We recognize that there are health-related risks associated with reopening schools," said Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase. "The waiver process requires schools to demonstrate that they can do so as safely as possible. We factor this in, along with available scientific evidence and local data as we consider these school waivers."

Schools were obliged to consult with labor, parents and community organizations when creating their plans. Plans needed to address:

  • Cleaning and disinfection
  • Small, stable cohorts
  • Entrance, egress and movement within the school
  • Face coverings and other essential protective gear
  • Health screenings for students and staff
  • Healthy hygiene practices
  • Identification and tracing of contacts
  • Physical distancing
  • Staff training and family education
  • Testing of students and staff
  • Triggers for switching to distance learning
  • Communication plans

Of particular interest is how schools will demonstrate the ability to identify and trace contacts and testing of students and staff.

When reviewing these applications, the County of Sonoma Department of Health Services analyzed the plans to determine if they met state criteria and also considered other data, such as current scientific evidence, case rates, testing positivity trends and other key metrics.

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