During winter break, the California Department of Public Health released new in-person school reopening requirements. Through the hard work of our unions, administrators, teachers and staff, MUSD has submitted all the required plans and checklists to reopen schools for in-person learning as soon as we are allowed to do so.
Up until now, the criteria for reopening schools was the product of partnerships between local public health departments and individual school districts. Each district operated separately under their own health restrictions. That is the reason that districts, even those in the same county, had some schools that opened and some which could not do so. Finally, the state has released evidence-based minimal thresholds at which districts can reopen schools for in-person learning.
The new COVID positivity threshold for opening elementary schools for in-person learning is 25 out of 100,000 cases. The threshold for opening middle and high schools in-person is the red tier, or a maximum of 7 out of 100,000 case positivity rate.
Research on COVID case rates has shown that when community transmission is high, school transmission is also high. Mono County currently has a COVID case positivity rate of 111.7 out of 100,000, which is the fourth highest positivity rate in California. That is almost four and a half times the rate at which we can open elementary schools for in-person learning and 16 times the rate at which we can open middle and high schools. The only way to open schools for in-person learning is to work together to reduce community COVID transmission rates. This will take time and effort!
As Mono County is still in the purple tier on the California Blueprint, schools which have not opened, may not open. Dr. Boo from Mono County Public Health has confirmed that MUSD may not open our schools for in-person learning until we reach the appropriate thresholds. However, I want to emphasize that this does not mean that MUSD folks are not working. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Our staff is hard at work in district and school offices or remotely every day. Administrators are supporting classroom learning and helping to watch out for students who need extra help. Our amazing teachers and students are hard at work, either in distance learning or small in-person and virtual intervention groups. Parents are working hard to keep kids engaged in their online classes. Every member of our school community is doing their part to keep MUSD running as effectively as we can under very challenging circumstances.
I am hopeful about our long-term future. The COVID vaccine will add an extra measure of safety for our staff and eventually our students as we reopen schools and bring back at-risk students for small group in-person interventions. (Note that state reopening guidance does not yet specify how the vaccine will affect school reopening plans.) I am also hopeful that the vaccine will positively affect our local COVID transmission rates.
However, we all have to work very hard to get our COVID positivity rate down so that we will be allowed to reopen schools for in-person learning. We are not out of the woods yet. School districts near and far are struggling to reopen or stay open. (For example, Bishop schools are re-closed due to COVID exposure.) All but four counties in California are still in the purple tier, with most experiencing a restrictive stay-at-home order. Already, 44 MUSD staff and students have been COVID positive since we began the MUSD COVID tracking system this fall. The only way to open schools is to reach the state thresholds.
In times like this, it would be understandable to feel fearful, angry or sad. It would be easy to give in to frustration, exhaustion, despair and divisiveness. We can also choose trust, cooperation and optimism. Let’s move forward together with courage, collaboration and hope. We can do this!