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Most Bay Area Students Stuck With Zoom School Under New CDC Guidelines

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New federal guidelines have done little to quell frustrations over ongoing school closures, as evident in a Rohnert Park billboard that went up over the weekend. 

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On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its operational strategy for K-12 schools. The guidance is intended as a blueprint for phased reopening of schools based on levels of localized community transmission of COVID-19. The CDC’s update stresses mitigation strategies, including masks, social distancing, facility disinfections, contact tracing, and testing. There’s far less emphasis on the need for teacher and staff vaccinations in decisions to reopen classrooms for in-person learning.

However, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky did say in a press call that vaccinations offer “an additional layer of protection.”

Agency officials were clear that the guidance is not a mandate and that local governments and school districts reserve the right to determine the safest mode of education.   

That said, guidelines rely on virus transmission tiers determined by number of new cases per 100,000 people and positive test rates over a seven-day period. Areas with nine or less new cases per 100,000 people and less than 5 percent test positivity rates fall into the CDC’s “low transmission” tier, which would allow for full in-person instruction of K-12 schools. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021 updated school reopening guidelines that rely on a tiered system calculated by local community transmission data. (Graphic courtesy of the CDC_

“High transmission” areas are those with 100 or more new cases per 100,000 people and positive test rates at or above 10 percent. For the worst hit areas, the CDC recommends a hybrid mode for elementary schools and distance learning for middle and high schools.

“Moderate” and “substantial” tiers sit between the two extremes. 

Schools in all tiers are subject to mitigation standards, which are costly and could prevent some low transmission schools from reopening until they can afford to implement proper safety measures. Funding for those measures is largely dependent on passage of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill making its way through the reconciliation process now.  

California introduced three interactive maps Friday that reflect reopening and Safety Plan submission statuses for public school districts, charter schools and private schools. The state maps break down statuses in yet another color-coded approach: dark blue for in-person learning, light blue for hybrid learning and yellow for distance learning districts.

Most Bay Area public school districts are still only eligible to provide distance learning, according to the California Department of Public Health tracking as of Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. (Graphic courtesy of CDPH)

Most Bay Area public school districts were still in the yellow zone as of Tuesday, though several private and charter schools in those areas are providing in-person classes. The disparity has not gone unnoticed.     

Frustrations run high among parents and school staff, for sometimes competing reasons. It is understandable that parents want students back in class — there are countless studies that show student learning is suffering and mental health issues are becoming more prevalent with the lack of socialization. On the flip side, younger children may not be at high risk of serious illness due to the virus but many teachers and school staff worry about returning to classrooms without being fully vaccinated. 

Both perspectives are valid. 

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.

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