California issues updated school guidance for 2021-22 school year

Photo courtesy of California Safe Schools for All

EARLIER in July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated K-12 school guidance reinforcing the shared priority of full in-person instruction for students by recommending strategies for schools to reduce COVID-19 exposure to achieve this goal.

California will align with this guidance by implementing multiple prevention strategies, including continued mask guidance and robust testing capacity, while not recommending physical distancing due to the obstacles it would present to California schools’ full reopening.

According to  the CDC guidance:

“When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking.”

“We applaud the CDC’s commitment to ensuring that schools are fully, safely opened for in-person instruction. Given California’s science-based approach and the fact that the state’s school facilities can’t accommodate physical distancing, we will align with the CDC by implementing multiple layers of mitigation strategies, including continued masking and robust testing capacity,” said California Health & Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in-person instruction. At the outset of the new year, students should be able to walk into school without worrying about whether they will feel different or singled out for being vaccinated or unvaccinated – treating all kids the same will support a calm and supportive school environment.”

Mask enforcement will continue to be handled by local schools as the state recognizes the unique needs of each district and child.

California’s school facilities will also layer multiple prevention strategies including:

  • Continued vaccinations: Vaccination for all eligible individuals to reduce COVID-19 rates throughout the community.
  • Continued masking guidance:  California will continue to require that masks be worn indoors in school settings, which also will ensure that all kids are treated the same.
  • K-12 students are required to mask indoors, with exemptions per California Department of Public Health (CDPH) face mask guidance
  • Adults in K-12 school settings are required to mask when sharing indoor spaces with students.
  • Masks are optional outdoors for all in K-12 school settings.
  • Robust testing program: Every California school has access to free testing through the state testing program for schools.

“There’s no substitute for in-person instruction, and the CDC guidance clearly reinforces that as a top priority, issuing recommendations for how schools throughout the country can achieve this goal. Here in California, we’ll get there through continued masking and robust testing capacity,”  said Dr. Tomás Aragón, CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer. “The CDC issued a full commitment, with which California agrees, to full in-person instruction for students in the coming school year.”

The guidance will build on multiple state initiatives to ensure schools are prepared to fully reopen safely:

  • Historic budget investments. In March, Governor Newsom signed into law a  $6.6 billion investment in education to safely reopen schools and to address learning loss, especially for students most heavily impacted and school districts with concentrations of low-income and homeless students. According to the most recent data, essentially all schools in California are planning to be fully open for the upcoming school year.
  • In-person summer learning. This summer, students in 88 percent of school districts are already receiving learning acceleration (e.g., high-dose tutoring), enrichment, and mental health services, based on $4.6 billion appropriated in early March and strong encouragement from leaders throughout the administration.
  • Vaccinating young people.  In  early May, California launched a multi-faceted statewide campaign to drive vaccinations of school-aged youth ahead of the next school year, including school-based pop-up clinics throughout the state, schools serving directly as providers, and both earned and paid media to educate youth and families.
  • Safety and family engagement.  In  early June, CDPH launched a family engagement campaign to address the concerns of students and parents reluctant to return to in-person instruction – especially Latinx, African American, and Asian American and Pacific Islander parents in communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Investments include a campaign to reach parents ($1 million), build on-the-ground local collaborations between local public health departments ($10 million) and county offices of education ($10 million), and provide ongoing statewide technical assistance and encourage two-way communication through enhanced technology ($4 million).
  • COVID-19 testing support. California has a robust testing infrastructure, particularly for schools, with the capacity to offer free PCR or antigen testing to every school in the state. Innovations being piloted include at-home testing, pooled testing (decreases collection time), and on-site molecular (similar to PCR) testing, among others. To learn more, visit the  CDPH Testing Task Force for schools website.

Parents can learn more about the new guidance by visiting the Parent Page of the California Safe Schools For All website at https://schools.covid19.ca.gov/.

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