Merced County this week progressed to a less-restricted “red tier” in the statewide monitoring of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The much-anticipated move has opened the doors to in-person learning at local schools starting as soon as next week in some cases, and more expected in early November — if the COVID data remains stable.
Under the red tier, some non-essential indoor businesses will be allowed to resume operations. These include:
- Places of worship can open indoors with 25 percent max capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.
- Restaurants can open indoors with 25 percent max capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer
- Gyms and fitness centers can open indoors with 10 percent max capacity.
- Movie theaters can open indoors with 25 percent max capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer
- Museums can open indoors with 25 percent max capacity.
- Higher education institutions may open some indoor lectures and student gatherings at 25 percent max capacity or 100 people, whichever is less
While rates in Merced County are improving, Public Health Department officials warn that if the metrics worsen for two consecutive weeks, the state may require the county to revert to the more restrictive “purple tier.”
The anticipated dates for students to return to school are Oct. 12 for Merced City School District (MCSD) students with disabilities, and Nov. 2 for all other Merced Union High School District (MUHSD) and MCSD students.
At a special board meeting on Oct. 2, the MUHSD Board of Trustees approved the updated plan that would allow students to begin the shift back to in-person instruction.
“Everyone agrees that students need to be back in schools, and MUHSD has always been committed to resuming in-person instruction when it is safe to do so,” said MUHSD Superintendent Alan Peterson. “We have followed the guidelines that have been set forth throughout this entire ordeal, and we are excited to be able to finally begin transitioning back to in-person learning next month.”
Families will be given the option to remain on “distance learning” for the remainder of the school year if they prefer, and staff members with health concerns will be able to continue teaching from home.
Students who return to in-person instruction will be on a modified schedule, attending classes every other day or with two days between school visits, depending on the social distancing guidelines at the time.
Julio Valadez, an MUHSD Board member, told the Times: “There are people who are concerned about the teachers’ health if they were to be exposed to the virus at school.
“My opinion is we give them the option to work from home, but again, I’m one board member and it has to be the majority. So as far as I know, if the teacher has a condition with a compromised immune system, they are supposed to be allowed to work from home, or if they have a family member with a compromised immune system, they are supposed to be allowed to work from home.
“On the student side, we are giving them the option to return to school or do distance learning until the end of the school year.
“As a parent of a student with a compromised immune system, I am torn about my son going back to in-person instruction. He wants to return and have a social life. So that’s my dilemma.
“My general concern is that we do the right thing when we do have positive cases. At the previous board meeting, I asked the superintendent what we do when we find out there is a death. The board members were surprised that I asked that, but we have to be prepared in case that happens in a district this big.
“They will get back to us about that.
“I didn’t make it to the Oct. 2 board meeting, and I don’t know the answer.
“My concern is the students’ and staff members’ safety, and then the community.”
MCSD Roll Out
The Merced City School District is beginning the process of bringing students back to school.
The California Department of Public Health recently released guidelines for returning small student groups or cohorts to schools for supports and specialized services. In order to comply with social distancing guidelines, cohorts will consist of no more than 16 individuals in a classroom.
The recommendation from the State of California and California Department of Education is to consider returning students with disabilities first, due to their increased vulnerability while on Distance Learning. These MCSD students will return to school in-person on October 12 unless their parents or guardians choose to continue with Distance Learning.
“The guidance from the state is in line with MCSD’s vision of providing equity and support to the most vulnerable students,” MCSD Superintendent Dr. Al Rogers shared. “First, we are going to bring back students enrolled in Special Day Classes and students with particular service needs. These students spend a significant part of their school day receiving specialized services.”
MCSD is creating a plan to welcome all students back to campus on Nov. 2, if COVID-19 infection rates continue to decrease within the county. MCSD’s plan prioritizes the safety of students and staff. Planning and school schedules are being developed based on valuable feedback from teachers, staff, parents, and the community.