Merced County Times Newspaper
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Merced County Office of Education issues guidelines for opening schools

Parents: Be prepared for new 'normal' ... that's subject to change


Picture this: 



It’s time for school, and little Luis and Sofia are off to catch the school bus, but their mother calls out for them to wait so she can take their daily morning temperature.

Sofia shakes her head in protest, and points out: “They will probably take our temperature before class starts.”

Mom grabs the thermometer anyway. … Oh good, the reading is below 100.4, so the kids are allowed to proceed. … “Don’t forget to wear your masks on the bus,” she reminds them.

“Don’t worry,” Luis replies optimistically. “It’s gonna be half full anyway.”

And with that, the two youngsters are on their way to school where they will be greeted by masked staff members, and their peers in the classroom, all gathered together in a small “cohort,” but seated three feet apart from one another. …


What you just read is only a small vision of what’s to come for the opening of the 2020-2021 school year, according to a newly released document of guiding principles and planning considerations for local schools.

The Merced County Office of Education, in collaboration with the 20 local school districts and the Merced County Department of Public Health, has released the document – “Academic Planning Guide: A framework to address the challenges of COVID-19.”

It’s a must-read for all local parents of school children. It has information on what families can expect when schools reopen, athletic guidelines, a distance learning framework, information on quarantine and contact tracing, along with information for parents about social emotional wellness and mental health.

The document can be viewed online at: There is also a link on the home page of the Merced Union High School District website,

Some of the Elementary School highlights include:

• Schools will reopen with both on-campus instruction and distance learning options.
• Parents and visitors may have limited access to the school campus.
• Arrival and dismissal times will vary depending on social distancing and other requirements at your schools.
• Staggered lunches, recesses, and other transition times
• Large gatherings such as assemblies and dances are prohibited

Grades 7-12

• Students must sanitize hands and seating area at the beginning and end of each period.
• Students will be dismissed on a staggered schedule.
• Permitted Sports: Swimming (one person per lane or every other lane), Diving, Golf, Tennis, Cheerleading, Cross Country and Track and Field
• Sports Not Currently Recommended: Basketball, Football, Water Polo, Soccer, Wrestling, Baseball and Softball and Volleyball.
• Assemblies, dances, and rallies are also not recommended at this time.


The coronavirus pandemic and the daily need to take precautions are far from over, according to school and county officials, and the latest statistics.

Total confirmed coronavirus infections in Merced County surpassed the 700 mark on Tuesday as 49 new cases were reported — a record for a single day. The overall total since counting began was 710 as of the Times press deadline this week.

Also, there have been just over 200 additional COVID-19 cases that have been confirmed locally in a week’s time, and the number of reported active cases, 336, is approaching the number of those who have reportedly recovered, 365.

Nine local residents have died from COVID-19 related illness.


“We have worked closely with school district superintendents and the Merced County Department of Public Health to create this guidance document,” said Dr. Steve Tietjen, Merced County Superintendent of Schools. “Making sure our students and staff are safe is our top priority and these guidelines lay out parameters where schools can operate in safe ways and our students can learn.”

Schools will have hand washing and sanitizing stations in classrooms and across campuses, and time will be scheduled regularly for hand washing. Parents are urged to keep students home who have flu-like symptoms.

“It’s important that health and safety protocols are followed to keep students, families and school staff safe and healthy,” said Merced County Health Officer Dr. Salvador Sandoval. “The Merced County Department of Public Health will work closely with schools to monitor students or staff who may have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19.”

According to MCOE’s new Academic Planning Guide, “There is no one-size-fits-all approach to solving the dilemmas created by COVID-19. Local school districts’ re-opening plans will vary depending on the size of their student population, community needs, and state mandates. “

“It is important to note that each school community is unique and has its own needs, so by providing guidance documents, schools can come up with plans that best fit those needs,” Tietjen said.

As the COVID-19 situation evolves, and as additional guidance from the state and Merced County Department Public Health is issued during the summer, this guidance document and school districts are expected to adjust as needed.

The document also includes guidance for special education, preschool and after-school programs.

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