Patty Gunderson, Lassen County’s superintendent of schools, said as of today, most local school districts plan to reopen with in-person instruction later this month.
“That’s where we’re at today,” Gunderson said, “but who knows where we’ll be on Monday? We’re still just crossing our fingers, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.”
While Gunderson said the current situation remains “fluid” and may change at any time, she said the decision on how to handle reopening must be made by each individual school district and not with her office.
Gunderson said she, the school district superintendents and local and state health officials participated in a conference call Thursday to discuss the issues surrounding school re-opening.
One of the biggest considerations for the school districts centered on the potential liability from those who claim to have contracted COVID-19 while at the school. Megan Dahle, District 1 assemblywoman, has been pushing for a liability wavier for the public schools. Gunderson said the schools have no protection from such liability should someone decide to sue a district because they or other family members become infected with COVID-19. She said the liability question is one of the biggest issues facing every school district in the state. She encouraged parents to contact their legislators regardless of their position on the liability issue.
Personally, she said she’s in favor of re-opening with in person instruction.
“With the numbers we have right now,” Gunderson said of the low infection rate in Lassen County, “our kids need to be in school. It’s so hard, and I feel for these administrators who have to make these decisions because they’re doing the very best they can with the information they have. The risk level one district might take could be completely different than another district … I think it’s a horrible situation for everybody because it’s a no-win.”
And should something happen that requires a change in direction, Gunderson said the school districts are in a position to react.
“We’re not the same as Sacramento and Los Angeles,” Gunderson said. “We’re different, and we need to have some protections that are helpful for our little rural schools, schools that are predominately safe for our kids. If there’s something that happens, if we have a spike, the common sense is that we err on the side of safety.”
Still, that liability issue lingers, Gunderson said.
“The school district are not covered in any way for those kinds of things,” Gunderson said. “We don’t have liability insurance for meningitis. We don’t have liability insurance for chickenpox. We’re not covered for any of those things.”
Of course, Gunderson said employees potentially would be covered through Workers Compensation Insurance.
She said most of the schools are trying their best to follow state guidelines governing school re-openings. And she said athletics for the K-12 schools have been canceled for the fall semester.
She said so far, the following school districts plan to re-open with in person instruction — Janesville School District, Shaffer School District, Susanville School District and Lassen High School.
Big Valley and Johnstonville have upcoming meetings scheduled on the subject.
The Richmond School District has opted for distance learning, and Lassen Community College previously announced a distance-learning proposal earlier this year. Gunderson said the Fort Sage School District plans to push its start date back.
“At this point Richmond is the only school district that’s made the decision to go with distance learning,” Gunderson said.
In every case, it’s a local decision made by local school board members.
“The district boards have to make the determination what position they’re going to take about bringing the kids back,” Gunderson said. “If all the safety procedures are in place (we should be OK) — and we know all the school districts are working on that and have procedures in place.”
Lassen High School, for example, has measured the classrooms, made social distancing determinations and installed Plexiglas barriers.
She said third grade and up students would be required to wear masks (up to second grade it’s recommended but optional).
“So we’ll have some of our little guys wearing masks because the parents want them to, and others who won’t be because they’re parents don’t want them to wear them.”
The Susanville School District plans to split its classes with two adults — one handling the in-person students and the other the distance learning students. Those two student groups will trade places every other day.
“It’s going to look very different,” Gunderson said. “Lots of things are going to be different. They’re going to be having lunches in the classroom so there are not so many children in the cafeteria.”
The schools also will provide different opportunities to ensure each student attends the appropriate number of class hours.
She said the Office of Emergency Services has provided masks for students, teachers and staff.
“We may have to get more, but we have enough to get started,” Gunderson said. “Face shields, thermometers — all the schools are doing either a visual check or a thermometer check — the schools are trying to adhere to all of the guidelines” from the California Department of Public Health “as closely as possible in order for it to be safe for staff and students in school.”
Parents who have issues with what is happening at their school district can transfer their children to another school district, Gunderson said.
She also encouraged parents with any questions or concerns to contact their school district.