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A dozen elementary schools can reopen for in-person learning 

Editor's Note: This article now reflects the updated school waiver numbers as of Aug. 28 at 12:30 p.m., according to the SLO County Public Health Department.

As SLO County's public schools grapple with distance learning, a dozen local private schools have received waivers to reopen for in-person learning this fall.

REOPENING Nearly a dozen local private schools have been granted waivers to reopen for in-person learning this fall. Five more applications are still being reviewed. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF SLCUSD
  • File Photo Courtesy Of SLCUSD
  • REOPENING Nearly a dozen local private schools have been granted waivers to reopen for in-person learning this fall. Five more applications are still being reviewed.

Although state guidelines require schools in counties that are still on the state's coronavirus watch list—SLO County is still on that list—to continue with distance learning until COVID-19 transmission rates decline, elementary schools can apply for waivers allowing them to provide in-person instruction. The application process requires schools to provide evidence that they've consulted adequately with labor organizations and parents and draw up detailed reopening plans that outline strategies for maintaining hygiene, distancing, testing of staff and students, family education, and quick ways to switch back to distance learning if necessary.

SLO County released information about its waiver process on July 29, and 13 local schools have submitted applications so far, according to county spokesperson Michelle Shoresman. The county is still reviewing one of those applications. As of Aug. 24, Shoresman said no public schools had submitted waiver applications.

"We have not denied any applications yet," Shoresman wrote in an email. "We have advised schools on any deficiencies they might have in their reopening plans. If they are able to meet our requirements, they can resubmit for approval."

Coastal Christian School, a private K-12 school in Pismo Beach, will reopen for in-person instruction in grades K-6 on Aug. 27. Tom Olmstead, who heads the school, said he's looking forward to getting his roughly 150 younger students back into their classrooms.

"Well, the main reason that we want to open is really for the benefit of our students' education," Olmstead said.

Coastal Christian School did distance learning in the spring, and Olmstead said it was hard on everyone, but it was especially tough for the younger students to learn and work online. And while Olmstead said his school takes the pandemic and safety seriously, current evidence appears to suggest that elementary-aged children aren't as dramatically impacted by coronavirus as other age groups.

"When we surveyed our families," he said, "a vast majority of them were unreservedly hopeful that we could get their kids back in school."

Teachers are supportive of the plan, too, he said, with only a few bringing up some minor safety concerns that have already been addressed. The school invested heavily in sanitation supplies, including constructing four outdoor classrooms, putting Plexiglas around teacher desks, hiring two additional cleaners, and purchasing all the usual COVID-19 safety equipment.

Parents who don't feel comfortable with their kids returning to school will be learning through an independent study model, where teachers provide curriculum and materials to parents. Coastal Christian School's middle and high school students will continue learning online and at home this fall. Δ


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