Nearly a year after school campuses across Sonoma County were closed due to the growing coronavirus pandemic, classroom doors at a small number of schools will open Monday.
That’s when Sonoma Charter School is scheduled to open its doors to kindergarten and first and second grade children. On Wednesday, Liberty School in North Petaluma plans to bring back students and staff.
They are likely to be followed by four more schools and districts that have received approval from the Sonoma County Health Services Department to bring students and staff back to campus at modified times and in completely different routines.
“It’s like school opening day, but on another planet,” said Marc Elin, principal of the 215-student Sonoma Charter School. “I’m excited. This is just good news.”
The Sonoma County Department of Health Services has COVID safety plans for 24 schools and districts throughout Sonoma County. Plans for six schools, including those for Sonoma Charter and Liberty School, have received approval, clearing the way for schools to reopen for modified in-person instruction.
Those schools and districts join the 10 schools, nine of which are private, that had been authorized to reopen as of October, provided the state had approved its security protocols. That waiver program was halted in late November when virus cases across the state began to rise, but already licensed schools were allowed to continue.
At a community informational meeting Wednesday, county public health official Dr. Sundari Mase described the safety plans of the six schools and districts that were cleared to open as “stellar.”
“Very soon we will announce the reopening of more schools,” he said.
Also Wednesday, Sonoma County’s largest school district, Santa Rosa City Schools, approved plans to bring back its approximately 5,000 elementary school students on April 1 and 2 and its nearly 11,000 high school students. from April 26 and 29.
Santa Rosa’s plan is based in part on the county’s anticipated move from the purple tier, the most restrictive stage of the state’s color-coded coronavirus reopening plan, and to the red, indicating substantial, but not widespread, transmission, of the virus.
Once red, the rules for staff and students to return to campuses change and schools and districts no longer need approval from the county health department to reopen. A change to red would also clear the way for returning county middle and high school students to the classroom, something that was not allowed on the purple level.
Meanwhile, the Santa Rosa COVID Safety Plan remains in the county’s review process. The county received the revisions on February 23. You should receive a response from the county to those changes by Thursday.
The Windsor Unified School District has submitted a plan and should also receive a response from the county to its revisions by Thursday. The county’s response to the changes submitted by the Wilmar Union School District, west of Petaluma, is due Tuesday and Two Rock Elementary, also west of Petaluma, is scheduled to hear back on its revisions by Wednesday.
If a school opens at least one full grade for in-person instruction, that school can remain open and continue its reopening strategy even if Sonoma County falls back to the purple level.
“Once that happens and the schools open, even if we go back to the purple level, the schools stay open,” Mase said.
Like many proposed back-to-school plans being considered by the county, Sonoma Charter School will open Monday with in-person instruction only for students in kindergarten, first and second grade. After spring break, on March 29, the upper grades will begin to return in a part-time, in-person distance learning format, Elin said.
But on Monday, the campus doors will open for a class of kindergarten students who have never seen the inside of their classroom, as well as first and second graders for whom life on campus can be little more than a vague memory.
Because each of the three returning grades has only one class of students, school officials were able to divide them into two stable groups that will attend a full day of school four days a week, Elin said.
“Those kids have been exposed to so much screen time,” Elin said. “What we love about having them back on campus is that they are in a more traditional model, a more physical model. They no longer look at screens, they look at an adult ”.
You can contact Staff Writer Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or [email protected] On Twitter @benefield.