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K-12 Schools In Orange County Are Now Allowed To Welcome Back Students

A parent takes photos of their child in front of the school's sign on the first day of hybrid classes at Lee Elementary School in Los Alamitos. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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Starting today, K-12 schools in Orange County have the green light to welcome students and staff back for in-person instruction.

That’s because the county’s coronavirus case and test positivity rates have put it in the second most restrictive “tier” of the state’s coronavirus framework for two weeks.

Over the summer, when Orange County was still in the first tier on the state’s coronavirus monitoring system -- indicating “widespread” risk of community disease transmission -- schools needed waivers to reopen campuses. Cypress School District and Capistrano Unified had their waivers denied recently due to low support from their teachers and staff.

But that won’t have any bearing on their ability to reopen now that the county’s in the red -- or “substantial” risk of community disease transmission -- tier, according to Orange County Health Care Agency director and county health officer Clayton Chau.

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“All schools, K through 12, by a state regulation are allowed to reopen for in-person education,” Chau explained.

No waiver or special permission from county health officials are required.

“The decision” – of when and how to reopen – ”would rest on the school district and the school board and parents and teachers,” Chau added.

Districts like Fountain Valley, Cypress, Irvine, and Tustin Unified have said they’ll reopen campuses and welcome back students this week.

Even with the new permission to reopen, the schools still need to follow state guidelines, like physical distancing and mandatory masks for students in third grade and older.

But Chau said he doesn’t have the resources or staff to check on every school to make sure they’re complying.

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“Remember, we have never had that kind of relationship with schools before,” he said. “The county is not an auditing body for school.”

Instead, Chau said the Health Care Agency is depending on parents and the public to let them know if a school’s safety promises differ from its practices.


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