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Clovis Unified School District has temporarily halted the return to classroom instruction for students who were not already receiving in-person instruction based on recommendations of local health officials over COVID-19 concerns.

The district announced late last week that it was postponing until Jan. 19 at the earliest its plans to bring more students, including middle and high schoolers, back to campus.

In an email sent to Clovis Unified families, Superintendent Eimear O’Farrell acknowledged that announcing the decision to postpone the continued phase-in of returning to school just a few days before the spring semester starts is “frustrating and painful” to families and staff.

But, O’Farrell said, the district also recognized that the worsening pandemic motivated local and state officials to urge schools not to expand school populations.

“Changes, however, are necessary at times as we responsibly balance our community’s health and safety with the educational purpose for which we exist,” she said.

Fresno County continues to report rising infection rates of the coronavirus that show no sign of abating — and likely will not at least for weeks due to gatherings over the holiday break. Much of the state, including the San Joaquin Valley region, is in Tier 1, color-coded purple, of the state’s reopening plan because of the high percentage of positive tests for COVID-19 and scarce intensive care unit beds in local hospitals.

In-Person Instruction Continues for Some

The postponement affects students who were due to begin returning to in-person instruction after Monday, but not those who are already back at school.

Health officials told Clovis Unified that the students and staff who are already going to school are familiar with and following the health and safety protocols, but others who don’t have the same familiarity and track record for following the protocols would be returning at a time when the risk of infection is dangerously high, O’Farrell said.

The district plans to launch a web-based dashboard by mid-January to report the number of positive coronavirus tests by site or facility, she said.

Among the major school districts in the Fresno area, Clovis has been the most aggressive about students to in-person instruction sooner than later.

Plans for Other Districts

Central Unified, which had planned a hybrid instruction model of in-person and distance learning at the start of the spring semester, decided in December to delay the return of elementary students to classroom instruction because of high infection rates until at least Jan. 19, or when Fresno County reaches Tier 2, the red tier. Middle and high school students would remain on distance learning until the county reaches Tier 3, the orange tier.

Fresno Unified, meanwhile, has not wavered from its goal of reopening schools to in-person instruction once Fresno County reaches the  orange tier.

Gov. Gavin Newsom last week announced plans to provide an additional $2 billion for school safety measures. Students in transitional kindergarten through second grade would begin returning to in-person instruction starting in February, so long as the county’s seven-day average case rate is below 28 per 100,000 residents.

As of last week Fresno County’s rate was 84.9 per 100,000.

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