With most Trinity County schools set to reopen their campuses next week for in-classroom learning, they have been busy through the summer preparing to do so under a countywide health and safety plan to protect students and staff from the potential of spreading the COVID-19 virus.
Because Trinity County has had few cases, numbering just five since the coronavirus pandemic was recognized in March, it is not included among the counties on the state’s watchlist and is therefore allowed to reopen its schools for in-person instruction.
However, it was required to develop a plan for how to reopen safely, and the plan had to pass muster with the county’s Public Health and Environmental Health directors as well as the county Health Officer, Dr. David Herfindahl.
“The Health Officer and myself are very concerned about schools opening, but there is no appetite here for keeping kids out of school. That’s not easy, but it won’t be easy opening schools either to ensure the safety of everyone,” said Trinity County Public Health Nursing Director Marcie Jo Cudziol in a COVID update to the Trinity County Board of Supervisors Aug. 4.
Trinity County Schools Supt. Sarah Supahan said the ‘reopening safely’ plan is “based on the best information out there along with all the most up-to-date guidance from the state. We want schools to open, but we want them to open safely to protect kids and staff alike.”
The plan applies to all schools in the county, most of which are opening next week. Trinity Center Elementary School isn’t scheduled to open until Aug. 31 and Southern Trinity Joint Unified School District always opens after Labor Day which this year means Sept. 8.
Supahan said she is not aware of any adjustments being made to the reopening plan by individual school districts. Any families uncomfortable with sending their children back to classrooms for in-person instruction have the option of choosing independent study for learning at home.
Trinity County schools were closed for in-person instruction in March due to concerns about the possibility of COVID-19 transmission. The county’s reopening plan cites claims that children do not appear to play a major role in COVID-19 transmission, saying it is spread mainly between adults or from adults to children. It also notes that the understanding of how COVID-19 spreads and how to limit transmission have also increased, providing evidence that certain precautions effectively limit the risk of transmission.
It notes that many of Trinity County’s schools already have very small classes in isolated, tight-knit communities, creating a natural social distancing setting.
The plan also cites some of the negative impacts on children and families from the school closures including a rise in students receiving multiple failing grades, anxiety, apathy, depression and limited development of skills and coping mechanisms for major lifestyle changes. Students have reported allegations of parental drug and alcohol abuse and having more frequent interpersonal conflict with their parents. Parents have reported inability to help their children academically or emotionally; they are suffering financial hardship during the pandemic; and their children are bored and doing nothing.
The reopening plan focuses on training for staff and parents regarding social distancing measures, cleaning/disinfecting, hygiene practices, and proper use of face coverings which all staff and students will be required to wear. There are testing requirements for all school staff members who may come in contact with students or other staff and all are subject to passive screenings and wellness checks.
Regarding face coverings, they are strongly encouraged for children aged 2 through the second grade. For third graders through high school, masks or shields are mandatory unless a student has an exemption. The state has provided schools with hand sanitizer, washing stations and masks to supply students if necessary. The plan requires schools to exclude students from campus if they refuse to wear a face covering and are not exempt.
Teachers may wear face shields instead of masks so that students can see them speaking.
All water fountains must be disconnected, and refillable water bottles provided for all students and staff instead.
Regarding transportation, all students and drivers must wear face coverings to ride the bus; use hand sanitizer both entering and exiting a bus; use assigned seating and participate in passive health screening and visual wellness checks before entering a bus. Buses will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected daily and after transporting anyone exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
There are also several rules about classroom, restroom and cafeteria use, encouraging outdoor activities as much as possible.
Schools in the Trinity Alps Unified School District are set to open on Monday, Aug. 17, and District Supt. Jaime Green said “we are very excited. We miss the kids so much, and we are ready. We’ve been working on this all summer and practicing the safety protocols.”
He said only about 10 percent of the district’s families at this time have opted for the independent study program over face-to-face learning, and he is confident in all the plans for reopening safely. The district has purchased 1,000 neck sleeves imprinted with school logos for Trinity High School, Weaverville Elementary School and Alps View students to receive on the first day of school.
The first week will consist of minimum days for students, providing additional staff time for training in all of the safety protocols.
Weaverville Elementary School students will be returning to freshly renovated classrooms and other facilities throughout campus, retiring from the portable classrooms installed last year to deal with a black mold infestation. The mold remediation work has been 100 percent completed at the elementary school.
Trinity High School students will be returning to their portable classrooms with fingers crossed that reconstruction funding will come through from the state this fall to further address the mold problems there.