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Students attending parochial schools in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno will start their school year next week just like their public school counterparts — online.

All schools in Valley counties that are on the state’s COVID-19 watchlist must remain closed as a result of a state mandate issued this month.

The state is monitoring counties in which coronavirus infection and hospitalization rates are continuing to soar. For schools to reopen, counties must be off the watchlist for 14 consecutive days.

However, the state mandate does allow elementary schools to seek waivers from county and state public health officials that would let them reopen sooner.

Plans to Ask for Waivers

According to a news release from the diocese, Schools Superintendent Mona Faulkner will seek waivers from each of the counties where Diocese of Fresno schools are located.

Faulkner did not respond to phone or email requests for comment from GV Wire℠ this week.

The diocese reports that Bishop Joseph Brennan is requiring the schools reopening plan to have higher standards for safety than required by the state or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the diocese provided no other information on the “Diocesan Reopening Guidelines for Catholic Schools and Preschools.”

Big Creek Wants to Reopen

Other schools in Fresno County, including Big Creek Elementary School District, have indicated they may try for a waiver. The Big Creek trustees held a special meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the issue but are awaiting information from state and county health officials, board president Ramiro Rojas said.

Big Creek, nestled in the Sierra near Huntington Lake, has only 56 students and had no COVID-19 cases as of last week. Trustees contend that the school’s small size and remote location would make it a good candidate to reopen.

But Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County’s interim health officer, told GV Wire℠ last week that he likely wouldn’t agree to a waiver, even for a remote school, with the rising infection rates in the county.

Reopening Plan Submitted

Rojas said Wednesday that the district has submitted its reopening plan to the Fresno County Public Health Department for review. If David Pomaville, the county’s public health director, approves the plan, it then goes to the state Department of Public Health for review.

Rojas said the waiver itself would be issued by Fresno County Public Health. He said he expects to hear by the end of this week or next whether the county has approved Big Creek’s reopening plan.

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