ROHNERT PARK-COTATI, CA — If Sonoma County is still on the state of California's COVID-19 coronavirus watchlist when the fall semester begins, students of the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District and all other school districts and charter schools in the county, will have to start the school year with online classes, according to back-to-school guidelines spelled out Friday by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Counties where schools are not able to start the 2020-2021 school year in physical classrooms must be taken off the watchlist and remain off the list for at least two weeks before students can return to on-campus learning, Newsom said.
In response to Newsom's orders for California schools in the age of coronavirus, Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Steve Herrington released a statement, and said he would meet with Sonoma County’s 38 superintendents, as well as charter school and private school leaders, early next week to discuss this new guidance in detail.
"SCOE has been and will continue to provide professional development and other supports to assist districts in building robust distance learning options for all students," Herrington said.
"Sonoma County schools are committed to serving families with high-quality instruction and supports, regardless of the current conditions under COVID-19.
"I thank our school leaders and staff, as well as our parents and students, for their flexibility and understanding during these incredibly challenging, fluid, and unprecedented times."
Here's the full statement from Superintendent Herrington:
According to Newsom's back-to-school edicts, staff at all California schools and all California students in third grade and above will be required to wear face masks during in-person classes. Students in second grade and below will be strongly advised to use face masks or shields during in-person classes but will not be mandated to do so, Newsom said.
Schools must also abide by state health guidelines by maintaining six feet of distance between students and teachers, administering daily symptom checks and ensuring students and staff have ample opportunities to wash their hands.
"Learning remains not negotiable," Newsom said. "But neither is the safety of all of our cohorts of support staff as well as our children."
Nearly all the greater Bay Area's 11 counties are either on the state's watchlist or expect to be added soon, with Santa Cruz County being the only county in the region to avoid a rise in coronavirus cases that concerns state public health officials.
Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma counties were already on the list entering Friday. San Francisco County was added Friday morning while San Mateo County officials expect to be added to the list early next week.
Newsom said the pace at which counties on and off the monitoring list resume in-person classes this fall is incumbent upon people following state health mandates and guidelines like wearing masks and face coverings, practicing physical distancing, hand washing and minimizing contact with people outside one's household.
"The more we do ... and we do it at scale, the quicker all those counties are going to come off that monitoring list, we're going to mitigate the spread of this virus and those kids are back in school," he said.
Newsom also outlined the state's requirements for distance learning. Schools must ensure that all students have access to the requisite technology and internet service for at-home classes and that students and teachers interact with each other daily. Schools must also lay out plans to modify their lessons for English language learners and special education students, according to Newsom.
"Safety is foundational and safety will ultimately make the determination of how we go about educating our kids as we move into this fall and we work our way through this pandemic," Newsom said.
Bay City News Service and Patch editor Maggie Fusek contributed to this report.