SAN LUIS OBISPO — School districts can apply for a waiver that would allow in-person learning for elementary school students, grades kindergarten through fifth grade.

San Luis Obispo County Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein confirmed the waiver’s existence Wednesday afternoon during the County’s COVID-19 update. SLO is currently on the state’s watchlist.

“We do within the state order have the opportunity for superintendents, school directors to submit for a waiver for attendance in person of elementary school level children, and I’m beginning to receive some of those,” Borenstein said.

Borenstein explained that information is becoming clear that young children, particularly under the age of 10 or under the age of 12, “really do not get this disease at the same rate or the same way as the rest of the population. They are infected in much fewer numbers biologically and they also do not appear to transmit to other people.”

Information is less clear for middle school and high school students, Borenstein added.

Borenstein said that for districts to make a request, teachers, staff, the community in which the schools are located, the parents and the superintendent have to agree.

“And then a request is made for a waiver to myself and it also requires engagement with the state Health Department to review that request and look at our metrics and look at the plans quite frankly of the school and how they envision bringing students back in an in-person fashion with safety measures in place,” she said.

The waiver was not mentioned during Governor Gavin Newsom’s press conference on Friday when he outlined state guidelines for opening schools in the fall. He hammered home that public and private schools in counties on the state’s monitoring list could open with distance learning only.

The waiver is mentioned in a footnote in a 5-page “framework” for reopening in-person learning for K-12 schools that was released on Friday.

“A waiver of this criteria may be granted by the local health officer for elementary schools to open for in-person instruction,” the footnote states. “A waiver may only be granted if one is requested by the superintendent (or equivalent for charter or private schools), in consultation with labor, parent and community organizations. Local health officers must review local community epidemiological data, consider other public health interventions, and consult with CDPH when considering a waiver request.”

The waiver was not mentioned in the 19-page COVID-19 Industry Guidance: Schools and Schools-Based Programs, also released on Friday, nor in a press release from Newsom’s office.

More than 30 of California’s 58 counties are on the watchlist. To shift from distance learning, a county has to not be on the watchlist for 14 consecutive days.

For SLO to be removed from the watchlist, it would need to have no more than 280 new cases over a 14-day period — an average of 20 per day. The County is not trending in a positive direction. Over the past seven days, the County has reported more than 280 new cases.

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