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How Can Schools Get Green Light to Reopen? County Must Stay in Red Tier Tuesday.



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On Tuesday Fresno County will learn whether it’s still in the red tier of the state’s reopening structure or has regressed to the purple tier, so assistant public health director David Luchini was probably not being hyperbolic Monday when he called it a “big day.”

His comments came during an online public forum for Clovis Unified parents on preparing for schools to reopen.

In addition to affecting whether businesses can remain open or must close again, maintaining red tier status is a critical milestone for middle and high schools to reopen.

County health officials said Monday during the forum that a return to the purple tier Tuesday will further delay the return to school for students in grades seven through 12.

Return to Campus Parent Forum

The state Department of Public Health is scheduled Tuesday to make public its calculations as to whether Fresno County has met or missed the red tier mark. As of last week, things weren’t looking promising.

Waivers Needed for Elementary Schools

But no matter the tier color, the state is allowing students in grades kindergarten through six to return to school once districts receive state public health waivers that are first reviewed by county health officials.

Clovis Unified’s waiver application went to Sacramento on Friday, Luchini said during the forum. The state’s answer could come later Monday or Tuesday, he said.

The district is asking parents to fill out another online survey to indicate their preference for in-person or online schooling for their children. When schools do reopen, it will be on a hybrid schedule of morning or afternoon classes to reduce the number of students on campus during the day.

Superintendent Eimear O’Farrell said teachers lobbied for having kids on campus on a daily basis rather than two full days weekly, even if it’s only a few hours each day.

Wednesdays will be online for all students, which will help them maintain their distance learning skills in the event that they, their teacher, or their class need to isolate because of the coronavirus. That way, she said, students will still be used to logging in and making sure their internet is up and running.

Follow The Rules, No Outbreaks

But Luchini said he believes outbreaks won’t happen if students and staff follow all the safety procedures and protocols, including the three main practices: Wear a mask, keep at least 6 feet apart, daily screening for coronavirus symptoms before arriving on campus.

He said he reviewed Clovis Unified’s plan before sending it on to the state Public Health Department and would have no qualms about sending his own kids to a Clovis school “based on the guidance and the plans they have in place.

“Knowing that nothing is 100%. But if these are all implemented correctly and everybody is playing on the same page, let me tell you, there will not be any outbreaks. You may get a break-through case, but there will not be any outbreaks.”

Although public health officials have said that masks should be mandatory for students in grades three and older and voluntary for younger students, Clovis Unified is making masks mandatory for all students.

No School Outbreaks So Far

Have there been any coronavirus outbreaks at schools in Fresno County that have gotten waivers to reopen? Interim county health officer Dr. Rais Vohra said there have been none so far, but schools have only been open for a few weeks. “It’s still too soon to tell,” he said.

If the county continues to improve its infection case and testing rates and moves from red to the next lowest yellow tier, restrictions for masking and distancing will still need to remain in place, Luchini said.

They may be a bit more relaxed, but social distancing will be important to maintain even when Fresno County reaches the least restrictive green tier, said Dr. John Zweifler, the county’s assistant medical officer.

“We feel very strongly and have communicated with the schools that maintaining social distancing throughout the tiers, until we no longer have to deal with COVID-19, that social distancing is an absolutely essential component of our approach and we recommend that it be maintained in all the different phases,” Zweifler said.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email