Merced County Times Newspaper
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MCSD prioritizes avoiding Delta Variant cases at school

 

The leap in pediatric COVID cases has become concerning as school campuses reopen for in-person instruction. It’s especially troubling because according to the State Department of Public Health, vaccination is the best way to prevent infection and only 63 percent of those age 12 and older are fully vaccinated; children younger than 12 are not eligible yet.

In response to the surging Delta Variant caseload, Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Aug. 11 that California will be the first state to require teachers and school staff to get vaccinated, or alternatively, to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.

Doug Collins, deputy superintendent of the Merced City School District (MCSD), told the Times, “The new mandate from Governor Newsom essentially requires educators to receive the vaccine, if they haven’t yet received it.

“If they choose not to receive the vaccine, they would be required to test for COVID once a week.

“The date to be fully compliant with the mandate is October 15, 2021.

“We thought the vaccine mandate for teachers might have been coming, and we will adjust and be compliant.

“We will work with our employees on a verification process and an option for weekly testing with vendors, for the employees who choose not to take the vaccine.  We will try to arrange hours where the employees can go to a company and test quickly.

“After our full-time Summer School with in-person instruction for eight weeks serving 1,400 students, including more than 200 working staff members, we had four cases of COVID — three adult and one student — and through our contact tracing, we know that none of those four cases came from school.

“We hope that all our efforts will help mitigate the spread of COVID.

“Close to 80 percent of our staff have had at least one dose of the vaccine, and we continue to follow the guidance — vaccines, masking, self-screening, contact tracing, the cleaning/sanitizing we’re supposed to do, and we’re improving our ventilation to reduce any type of spread.

“About 97 percent of our students currently enrolled have chosen to be back in person.

“As far as teachers coming back to campuses, they are all coming back in person because all the students are, for the most part.

COVID protocols are being followed by students at schools

“We are requiring masking indoors for our Kindergarten through Eighth Grade students.  The kids have been fantastic about wearing their masks indoors.  I haven’t heard of any issues from teachers or principals.

“We’re following all the protocols for the State and County Departments of Public Health.

“August 11 was the first day of school.  We’re at the end of our first week, having had three days of in-person instruction.  I was able to visit every campus during the first three days.  The atmosphere was positive, and having students back on campus was almost life-giving.  We’re excited, and the students are excited.  Their smiles can be seen under their masks.

“At Franklin School, I saw kids having a blast at recess.  They are learning and practicing social-emotional skills, and it was fun seeing them playing together.

“Parents were anxious on Day 1 of school due to coming back to in-person for this school year after a rough year-and-a-half.  Schools reported on Day 2 that there was a significant drop in parents’ anxiety level; however, the excitement stayed.

“We’re doing in-person instruction or in the alternative, Independent Studies.

“We’ve only used Independent Studies in the past for short-term student absences, so we’ve created a new Independent Studies program currently based on everything that has occurred, and we’re working to meet all the needs of the students and families who have chosen that.

“The families can change their minds and the kids on Independent Studies can return to in-person school pretty quickly if things change because their spot in their classroom is reserved.

“Although Independent Studies takes on a virtual format, it’s not Distance Learning.  In Distance Learning, the student is online with the teacher for a certain period of time.  In Independent Studies, for grades 4 through 8, there is a check-in with the teacher virtually once a week, and for grades K through 3, they are assigned a teacher of record and they are required to check in with their teacher once a day virtually.  It’s a check-in only and nothing like Distance Learning, which is basically all-day virtual school.

“As to after school sports, they will all be offered with the exception of wrestling, and we will follow the California guidance on sports as well.  For volleyball indoors, masks will be required.  For things like running outdoors, there is no requirement to wear masks.

Are parents currently allowed on campus?

“For visiting the campus, parents would have to wear masks.

“As far as their attending events at school that might involve their student, part of the guidance is we’re trying to limit the events that create the large gatherings, and that’s out of caution because we think it’s the right thing to do in the current Delta Variant surge.  We’ll continue to follow the guidance on that.  We’re not ready for those rallies because it’s a new school year, but we’re developing a plan now for the Back-to-School night which is currently scheduled for September 9 for elementary schools and September 16 for our middle schools.

“We’ve found creative ways to honor kids during the pandemic, and will be doing some of those to make sure we’re doing our part.”

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