Understanding California's School Reopening Guidelines

A young girl wearing a mask raises her hand in class to answer the teacher's question

Back to In-Person Learning

As the COVID-19 vaccine continues to roll out, one of the bigger issues that needs to be addressed nationwide is reopening schools. On December 30, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a plan to begin the safe reopening of schools and allow select groups of students back for in-person learning. After negotiating with legislators, Governor Newsom signed a bill that encourages schools to gradually reopen to allow the safest number of students back to schools for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.

Understanding the rationale behind this bill and the implications this may have on you and your family is crucial to ensuring your family’s safety and your children’s learning.

The Rationale

Both the California legislature as well as Governor Newsom agree that in-person learning is crucial to a child’s success in school. In addition, they both acknowledge that safety is the number one priority in any action taken. If proper safety protocols are taken, state officials believe that students can successfully return to in-person learning and keep the risk of contracting the virus at a minimum.

How Can a School Reopen?

A school can reopen if the county it is housed in is in the “purple zone” for COVID-19 cases, meaning that the county’s average daily case rate can be no more than 25 cases per 100,000 residents. If a county is in this range, then the school can re-open to certain numbers of students for in-person learning, but the district must confirm their numbers and receive approval from state officials first.

Does a School Have to Reopen?

No, a school does not have to reopen at this time, but the new bill provides financial incentives to schools that begin to incorporate this plan. Those financial incentives are awarded if a school reopens to students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first, and second grades as well as students with additional learning needs. If a district has low enough COVID cases, then schools must open to all elementary grades, one middle school grade, and one high school grade.

What are the COVID Guidelines?

Masks and social distancing will still be enforced. Teachers must wear masks when in the classroom and will enforce social distancing of 6 feet between their desks and the students and at least 3 feet between student chairs. All students must wear masks while in school unless they have a valid exemption, such as a health reason.

Schools are required to perform daily health checks on all students. Anyone showing symptoms of the virus should stay home, and a student that begins to show symptoms during school hours will be sent home.

Teachers and students are not required to be vaccinated before returning to school, but teachers and staff should be aware that vaccines are available to them should they choose to receive one.

For more information on California’s school re-opening guidelines, please visit California’s Safe Schools for All website.

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