When Santa Cruz County students return to the classroom, some as early as Aug. 12, they will be required to wear masks while indoors, but will—at least for now—be free from the social distancing requirements that came during the last school year.
There is currently no requirement to wear masks outside, and students will be able to play together during recess—a part of the school day that was severely curtailed last year.
But as the Delta variant of Covid-19 hastens its spread, schools could begin to impose stricter requirements.
According to Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah, school districts throughout the county are ramping up to offer optional surveillance testing at every school for all students. While currently optional for school employees, that could change if cases of the Delta variant increase too much, Sabbah says.
“I could see that, because of the way Delta is moving, that certain districts are going to start moving towards requiring all staff to participate in surveillance testing whether they have been vaccinated or not,” he said.
It is still unclear how the increasing cases will affect music and sports programs. SCCOE is waiting for guidance from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), Sabbah said.
“We’re concerned about the increasing numbers of Delta, and so we recognize that as a result there could be more restrictions put in place,” he said.
The requirement to wear a mask could be seen as a pain for some families, including dozens of parents who have attended Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees meetings to demand that students be given a choice in the matter.
But that decision comes down to what state and local medical officials recommend, said PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez. The recommendation from CDPH, she said, is seen as a dictate.
“We don’t necessarily interpret it as ‘we don’t have to enforce it,’” she said. “We believe that we have to have a protocol to enforce.”
She added: “As an educator, I look to the medical professionals. So for me, I have CDPH, Centers for Disease Control and the American Pediatrics Association that are telling me that children need to wear masks, and I have to trust those professionals just as I hope they trust me with the education of children.”
“It’s not up to us,” he said. “Choosing not to follow the direction from CDPH is not an option for us.”
Rodriguez said that PVUSD students will no longer be required to be screened on campus when they come to school in the morning, but instead will complete an online self-screening every day.
Teachers will monitor whether students have done so, and a health care assistant at every site will help when students come to school sick, Rodriguez said.
“We try to plan so that we can come back and come back safe, but feel as close to normal as possible while at the same time maintaining the health and safety of our s’s families and staff,” she said.
Although some teachers are concerned about returning to in-person instruction even as the Delta variant increases, they take comfort in the mask requirement, and the fact that they have gotten their Covid-19 vaccine, said Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers President Nelly Vaquera-Boggs.
“Working with the limits is what we’re going to have to do,” she said. “That’s going to be important because our number one priority is the safety of our students and staff.”
The district also plans to build outdoor shade structures at its school sites, so that students can be spread out during lunchtime, said PVUSD Board President Jennifer Holm.
Holm had praise for the district, its students, parents and staff for the way they have responded to the pandemic.
“As difficult as the last year has been, I continue to be in awe of what people are capable of,” she said. “That gives me so much hope for what we’re able to build out of this. I think we have such an opportunity to do great things in our district, and I look forward to working towards that.”