Letter to Parents About Humboldt County Schools From Public Health Officer
Information from Humboldt County Public Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich for parents of school age children:
Dear Humboldt County Parents,
This has certainly been a challenging year for students and their families. I don’t think any of us could have imagined the impact of COVID-19 on our daily lives and the county as a whole just six months ago. The new school year is rapidly approaching, and Humboldt County Public Health has been in conversations for many weeks now with school superintendents about what school might look like here in Humboldt.
The challenge before us is that things can change quickly in this pandemic, and it is very possible that school operations may change over the course of the year, even over one month. Our goal has been to find a way to get students back into the school setting if possible, since this is clearly the optimal learning environment for most children and provides a wealth of other supports as well.
At this time, our local data would allow us to begin on-site instruction with robust safety plans in place. We are not on the state’s County Monitoring List, which would dictate beginning with distance learning only. However, our county is clearly seeing increasing numbers of cases in recent weeks, and that is of concern. Most of these have been linked to travel by residents to areas outside of Humboldt County and to our families and friends traveling here to visit. In addition, social gatherings occurring without masking or distancing have been a driver of transmission. We have been messaging about this to the community, but if the current trend continues, at some point we may be placed on the monitoring list.
If schools are already operating when we are placed on the list, they are not necessarily moved to distance learning only, but may be depending upon conditions locally. Schools that are not already operating in-person will only be able to begin with distance learning.
As you may be aware, the California Department of Education (COE), the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the national Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) all have return to school guidance documents for schools to review, in addition to other resources. Public Health has also provided a guidance document referencing these resources and has worked extensively with the Humboldt County Office of Education on developing a template that each school may use to construct their plan. Each school’s final plans will be made available to families.
Public Health has also designated a public health nurse with extensive experience as a school nurse to serve as a liaison to schools. She will be able to answer questions and give ongoing technical assistance, both as schools develop their plans and throughout the school year as questions arise. Public Health is not tasked with reviewing or enforcing school plans, rather, public health provides a framework for schools to develop their own plans based on their unique setting and circumstances.
Whether or not your child’s school begins with full on-site instruction, a hybrid model with students doing a combination of on-site and distance learning or complete distance learning, will depend on what is happening with COVID-19 at the time and the school’s chosen approach for the start of the year based upon their capacity to implement guidance and input from teachers and families. Schools with on-site learning are also planning to offer distance options.
Classrooms will look different with more social distancing, cleaning, use of facial coverings and attempts to cohort children as much as possible to lessen exposures, but schools will still be a familiar and supportive space in which children can learn and grow, both academically and socially.
Your child’s school will keep you up to date as the school year draws closer. I want to assure you that the close collaborative relationship between Humboldt County’s schools and Public Health will continue throughout the academic year. Let us hope that advances in treatment and prevention allow us to move past the threat of COVID-19 over this coming year and that we are soon able to reclaim “normal” in our routines, both in and outside school.
Teresa L Frankovich, MD, MPH