Fresno County schools taking time to prepare for safe return to campus

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno County schools are planning for a return to in-person instruction in the age of coronavirus.

Because Fresno County moved from the purple tier to red, all schools will be eligible to reopen if the county stays out of purple for at least two weeks.

But it's not as simple as flipping the switch to classrooms.

"There's a lot of people inside a classroom or inside a school in general," said Alejandro Villegas of the Fresno County Public Health Department. "That's a potential for an outbreak."

Back to school carries a different meaning midway through the fall semester in Fresno County.

State coronavirus restrictions could lift in two weeks and schools are getting ready to have kids back in physical classrooms.

"It's not going to look like a typical third-grade class," said Fresno County Office of Education superintendent Jim Yovino. "People are, you know, commingling through the campus. That's just not what it's going to be like."

Yovino says the state and county will have mandatory health safety measures in place -- forcing most kids and teachers to wear masks, and keep at least six feet away from each other.

Schools will also have to conduct surveillance testing, and prepare to respond when they find infected students or teachers.

"Because we will," Yovin said. "And the idea is to be able to contain that, isolate that classroom and continue to operate."

Yovino has gone over the back to school requirements with dozens of schools and districts and says they'll take a variety of approaches, depending on their circumstances.

Smaller schools should have an easier time getting up to speed. Bigger school districts might need extra time, and Yovino is advising they take it.

Two extra weeks of planning before they shut down would've been a big help, he said.

Fresno Unified plans for schools to return in phases, and district leaders say they're working with labor unions on safety plans.

Buy-in from parents will be critical and districts expect some kids to keep learning from home.

Clovis Unified hopes to send out surveys to parents next week to get an idea of what they want to see.

"Our next phase really is to begin to create those schedules to say we everything we have to consider, what would be the best learning model for our students while maintaining the safety for staff and students," said Clovis Unified deputy superintendent Norm Anderson.

That might include major changes to a student's schedule.

Clovis Unified principals are considering a few different models for reopening and they'll propose two or three next week.

The goal is to reopen elementary schools by mid-November with secondary schools possibly waiting a while longer.

Different districts will be on different timelines, but while they all get ready, they'll watch the county case count, hoping to avoid a viral resurgence knocking their plans off track once again.
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