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California counties that are on the state health department’s coronavirus watchlist will be required to start the school year in distance learning. Sonoma County has been on the state’s watchlist since July 10.

Based on new guidance released this morning by Gov. Gavin Newsom, schools, private schools and charter schools, must remain in distance learning until their county has been off the state’s list for 14 consecutive days.

“Today’s briefing is very personal to me as a father of four young kids 10 years of age or younger,” but, “Safety will ultimately make the determination of how we go about educating our kids as we move into the fall and work our way through this pandemic,” Newsom said during a press conference on July 17.

In response to Newsom’s announcement, Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steve Herrington released a statement Friday afternoon reiterating that all county schools and districts will most likely need to begin the school year in distance learning.

“Currently, Sonoma County is on the watchlist until the state takes further action, which would be no earlier than July 22. Based on the new guidance, all schools must remain in distance learning at least until their county has been off the state’s watch list for 14 days,” Herrington said. 

He added that starting the school year in a full distance learning model is consistent with the direction that most local school districts were already moving towards.

Newsom’s afternoon briefing also addressed the wearing of facial coverings, social distancing protocols and other safety guidelines for schools. The state's five-point pandemic plan for schools includes:

●      Safe in-person school based on local health data.

●      Mask requirements.

●      Physical distancing and other adaptations.

●      Regular testing, dedicated contact tracing.

●      Rigorous distance learning.

The Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) said it will work closely with districts and public health department leaders to interpret the state department directives and how they may impact school plans.

“Additionally, SCOE will work with our public health partners to ensure that Sonoma County has adequate testing and contact tracing capacity to ensure a safe return to school once Sonoma County is off the watch list,” Herrington said.

Herrington said he also plans on meeting with Sonoma County’s 38 superintendents and private and charter school leaders early next week to discuss the new guidance in more detail. He said SCOE will continue to provide professional development and other support mechanisms for teachers in order to create a more robust distance learning experience for students this fall.

“Today’s announcement by Gov. Gavin Newsom represented a significant shift from local school district control of reopening efforts, to statewide directives meant to address the health and safety concerns presented by a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases statewide,” Herrington said. “We appreciate that the new directives provide specific guidance — not only for when to close, but also for determining when it is safe to reopen. Schools need this level of detailed and consistent guidance in order to provide the students, families, and staff they serve with the reassurance that clear safety protocols are in place to protect their health.”

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