“Schools are the best and safest place for students to learn, succeed and thrive.”
If this message wasn’t clear before, it should be in the coming days leading up to Wednesday, Aug. 11, when about 60,000 local students will be back in the classroom at K-12 schools throughout the county.
The Merced County Office of Education just launched a massive “Ready to Return” campaign with TV and radio commercials, newspaper advertisements, billboard and banner slogans, and social media targeting.
“I can’t stress enough our goal is to provide options for students and families to continue learning in the safest possible environment,” says Steve Tietjen, the superintendent of all county schools. “School boards, superintendents and school staff has spent countless hours planning, revising, and planning again because of the changes in Sacramento. … and how to bring our children back in the learning environment best suited to support their academic, social and emotional development.”
He adds, “While this new Delta Variant spreading across the county is troubling, we know that the mitigation strategies of getting vaccinated, using face coverings, and increased ventilation will work to keep our students and staff safe.”
At this time, all students in Merced County are required to wear masks indoors, and anyunvaccinated teacher or other staff member must keep their mask on all day.
“We know that this is key because there is no longer a social distancing requirement,”Tietjen says. “One of the issues that caused us to close and then only partially reopen last year was the problem of social distancing. With a 6 feet distance required, you would only have about half of students back in the class room at a given time.”
Tietjen says schools have also worked to improve ventilation by upgrading their H-VAC systems with new and stronger filters, or completely replacing the systems.
In addition, Tietjen points out that all school districts are engaged in covid testing at school sites.
“You didn’t have that last year when we started the school year,” he says. “Most school districts have implemented a testing program (including rapid testing) that’s available to any child or staff member — So we can stop it right away.”
This can only be a positive sign as local health officials continue to warn about a significant rise in covid case numbers in the region. On Tuesday, Merced County’s Public Health Director Rebecca Nanyonjo, said, “One of the biggest fears within the Health Department is that some of the toughest days may be ahead of us.”
Only 39 percent of the eligible population has been vaccinated in Merced County, and only 15 percent of children 12 to 18 have received the shot. Over the next two weeks, some school sites will be hosting vaccination clinics for students age 12 and older.
School officials are advising parents who still feel uncomfortable about sending their children back to school, despite the safety measures set in place, to seek out independent studies offered at their school district.
Meanwhile, the Merced County District Attorney’s Office is also having a presence in the “Ready to Return” campaign by addressing the issue of school truancy. According to District Attorney Kimberly Lewis, the office has an investigator that works on incidents of chronic truancy throughout the county.