hand washing

Scrub a dub dub — Local schools are encouraging frequent hand washing for at least 20 seconds in order to maintain hygiene and help prevent the spread of germs.

Amid the growing concerns associated with COVID-19, a novel strain of the corona family of viruses, local Healdsburg schools and surrounding school districts are stepping up cleaning regimens and emphasizing the importance of personal hygiene in an effort to keep students, staff and families healthy.

The Healdsburg School (a private K-8 school), the Healdsburg Unified School District, the West Side Union School District and the Alexander Valley Unified School District, are all taking extra precautions and maintaining open lines of communication with the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) and the Sonoma County Department of Health Services (SCDHS).

Local districts and schools are also sending out regular updates to families and staff regarding COVID-19 as further information on the virus becomes available (Sonoma County currently has three confirmed cases of the virus according to the SCDHS).

In a March 3 letter to the Healdsburg Unified School District (HUSD) community, Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel notified families that a member of the Healdsburg High School community may have come near someone with the virus.

According to the letter, out of an abundance of caution, the person will remain out of school for an extended period of time.

“We were notified by somebody that they had been in proximity with someone who had been confirmed to have coronavirus, one of the three people in Sonoma County, but it didn’t sound like they were very close and they didn’t have any symptoms,” Vanden Heuvel said in an interview. “We went through public health and talked to them about the best next steps, we spoke with the public health director Dr. Philip and the person is self quarantining on their own, they haven’t been ordered to and they themselves are considered extremely low-risk.”

Vanden Heuvel added that the person hadn’t been to school since they had potentially been in contact with the infected person. 

Vanden Heuvel said that this event was related to the same incident that occurred at The Healdsburg School on March 2 when the school was closed for one day after learning late Sunday evening, March 1, that an adult member of the school community had been exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

The private school reopened on Tuesday, March 3.

Vanden Heuvel said of the incident in relation to Healdsburg High, “There was no risk to our staff or our students, but we felt like we wanted to notify everyone about what was going on.”

Cautionary measures

On the prevention front, Vanden Heuvel said the district is currently working on deep cleaning and monitoring school field trips.

“We typically do deeper cleaning during flu season and with the coronavirus scare that is going on around COVID-19, we’ve been engaging in deeper cleaning. We have some new technologies we’ve been using where you mist the room and then wipe surfaces and so we’ve been focusing on nights and weekends doing that,” he said.

He said the district has also been encouraging frequent handwashing and pushing for families to do the same at home.

“We’ve been pushing hand washing, putting lots of notices out to families to encourage them to do the same, sending kids home when we think they are sick and asking parents to keep kids home when they are sick,” he said.

He said they are also keeping a close eye on field trips. 

“We haven’t stopped a field trip yet, but we are carefully examining field trips. If we had a field trip, say to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where there are a lot of tourists and people going through, we might consider not sending our kids there right now because of the potential spread of germs,” he said.

Another factor to consider is the upcoming spring break when staff and students will potentially be traveling . 

“As people come back we are going to want to be careful about them coming back to school depending on where they go. Obviously most people are not going to China, or Italy or Seattle, but there are potentially other places that we are not aware of so I reached out to SCOE on guidance on that and they will get back to us, but that will be a county-wide He said he wants to make sure the district is doing everything they can to keep everybody safe.

Other measures

The West Side Union School District, home to West Side School on Felta Road, is taking similar safety measures.

“At West Side we have been working closely with SCOE and the SCDHS to monitor the situation and prepare since early February,” said West Side principal and superintendent Kris Menlove.

According to Menlove, these are the steps the district have taken:

1. Provided staff and families with communication regarding good hygiene and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posters regarding good hygiene and the virus.

2. Have their custodian be vigilant about cleaning surfaces and door knobs/handles. They are also offering other staff training for how to use things like Clorox wipes. 

3. Updated the website to include a health page, which addresses things like lice, ticks, good hygiene and the virus, and video links.

4. Updated office procedures regarding tracking flu-like symptoms and when a child goes home ill from those types of symptoms. Parents have been provided with guidelines for when the child can return to school.

5. They are currently determing the process for remote study, which would require determining who has access to the internet at home and preparing study materials.

6. The board meets next week and health information will be on the agenda to ensure that the information from SCOE meetings is shared.

Menlove said the goal is to communicate and rely upon facts without adding to the stress that families may already be experiencing.

Similar efforts are being done at the Alexander Valley School (AVS), a K-8 school, part of the of the Alexander Valley Unified School District.

AVS principal and superintendent Matt Reno said in a March 3 letter that they had no known information of anyone who has come into contact with the virus connected with AVS.

“I wanted to share information about the additional cleaning procedures happening on campus. These measures include daily disinfectant of hard surfaces, cleaning of all classrooms, restrooms, entry and exit door handles, as well as throughout our office/nurse station,” Reno said in the letter.

Preparing for worst-case scenario 

When asked what would merit a school closure, Vanden Heuvel said the HUSD would work with SCOE and the SCDHS in order to determine if a closure was necessary.

“SCOE has put together a pandemic mitigation plan and basically the flow of information and chain of command runs through public health, to SCOE, to the districts. While we have some power as a district to ask students to stay home, or even potentially close the school out of a concern, in pandemic situations best-case-scenario is to work directly with public health and have them make the call,” he said.

Vanden Heuvel said the district is preparing to do remote learning if necessary.

“We are prepping to do remote learning, not that it is for sure going to happen, but we want to be ready when and if we should (close school for a period of time),” he said, noting that the leadership teams at all of the school sites are working on what that would look like for students.

He said for secondary school students, remote learning would take the form of online learning with a virtual classroom app called, “Power School Learning.” Remote learning at the elementary level would most likely include take-home packets and workbooks.

“In the last 12 months we’ve had flood, fire and now we are looking at pandemic,” Vanden Heuvel said. “Hopefully we won’t get (to that point) and it is contained, but we want to be ready.” 

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