Just days before Kindergarten to Grade 12 students return to school after winter break, California education and state leaders scramble to adjust to escalating cases COVID-19 that could have a huge impact on classrooms in the New Year.

Most agree that keeping schools open at the start of the school year and minimizing missed school days is the best option for student success. Thus, school leaders are expanding access to COVID tests, vaccinations and masks to keep children safe while they wait for promised shipments of home tests from the state.

Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin said his district had become “a testing machine” and had been successful in keeping children safe so far, but he said parents and educators should be careful. expect the impact of the highly contagious omicron variant to be more difficult than ever for schools. in the next weeks.

“We’re going to have cases,” said Austin, who said there was “no doubt” that every school district should prepare for a higher number of cases in the coming weeks.

While school districts follow different strategies before welcoming students again, most focus on expanded testing. How this will work is still an open question. The Bay Area News Group asked principals across the region how they are preparing and what parents should know before sending their children back to class.

CASTRO VALLEY, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Parvin Ahmadi, superintendent of the Castro Valley Unified School District, distributes free in-home COVID-19 antigen tests to parents of students preparing to return to school next week, during of a drive-through distribution, Friday December 31, 2021 at Canyon Middle School in Castro Valley, California (Karl Mondon / Bay Area News Group)

Do students need to be tested before returning to school? If so, where can they get tested?

Most schools don’t have a testing requirement, but they recommend that students test for COVID-19 before returning to class in January. San Jose Unified, San Ramon Valley Unified, San Lorenzo Valley Unified, Oakland Unified, and West Contra Costa Unified are offering families home testing to get through the weekend and first week of school or opening sites for COVID-testing. 19 in local schools.

What should I do with my child’s home test results?

Some school districts like Oakland Unified have their own COVID-19 testing programs for all students and staff who wish to take a home test during winter break. Oakland officials sent the students home with a test kit containing two rapid tests and asked the students to take their first tests on Friday and the second test on Sunday before returning to class on Monday. Parents can pick up tests from their schools and upload their results to the district’s online portal.

Counties are also stepping in to help record test results. Marin County has an online form for families to self-report results of rapid home antigen tests.

What is the state doing to help?

Gov. Gavin Newson and state education officials said the state was rapidly rolling out home testing kits to millions of schoolchildren to make it easier for families to get their children tested.

But just days before New Years Eve, many schools said they had yet to receive them and are unsure whether they will be able to distribute them before the end of the winter break. To fill the need, districts encourage families to use the screening systems they already have in place.

SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 14: Juan Carlos Esquivel, 5, of San Jose, is tested for COVID-19 by health services nurse Gardner Delmy Escobar during a free COVID-19 test offered by the School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza in San Jose, Calif. on Wednesday, October 14, 2020 (Ray Chavez / Bay Area News Group)

Will the home tests promised by Governor Newsom arrive before classes resume?

It is still unclear when students will get the state home tests. The California Department of Public Health said it hopes to have them in the hands of students within the first week of school. Public Schools Superintendent Tony Thurmond visited a Castro Valley college on Friday to help distribute home test kits to student families.

San José Unified received a delivery late last week and was arranging for students to take a home test on Sunday and Monday before classes resume on Tuesday, district spokeswoman Jennifer Maddox said.

San Ramon Valley Unified officials requested 30,000 home test kits from the state, and the district hoped to receive them for distribution to student families before school resumes on January 11., said Ilana Samuels, spokesperson for the district. This district also added an additional free test site over the weekend.

“What I can say for sure is that we are doing everything in our power to make this happen, because we want to make sure all of our students have access to the tests before they go back to school,” Samuels said.

RICHMOND, CA – NOVEMBER 9: Cristina Bunggay, RN, left, administers COVID-19 vaccine to 6-year-old Miranda Rodriguez Molina as her mother Xochitl tries to calm her down at a managed school vaccination clinic by Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) at the Nystrom Elementary Auditorium in Richmond, Calif. on Tuesday, November 9, 2021. The COVID-19 vaccine is now available for children ages 5 to 11. The introductory vaccination is the first in a series of mobile vaccination clinics organized by the CCHS. The flu shot was also available. (Ray Chavez / Bay Area News Group)

Do schoolchildren need to be vaccinated to return to school? If so, where can they get vaccinated?

Governor Newsom’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for all students and staff in public and private schools will not take effect until one semester after full FDA approval of the vaccine, no earlier than fall 2022.

But some East Bay schools are moving ahead and requiring students to get vaccinated over the next several weeks. The Oakland and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts require all students aged 12 and over to be fully immunized against COVID-19. Parents still have time to meet immunization deadlines, but schools recommend that children get immunized as soon as possible. The deadline at Oakland Unified is January 31, and the deadline at West Contra Costa is February 18.

Both districts have set up vaccination sites for students at local schools and say they will remove unvaccinated students from in-person learning and automatically enroll them in virtual learning programs if they fail to comply. not the deadlines.

Students at San Jose Unified, San Francisco Unified, and San Ramon Valley Unified are not yet required to get or be vaccinated. School leaders encourage all students and staff to get the vaccine and recommend that they receive booster shots for the new semester.

How long should children quarantine or self-isolate if they test positive or are exposed to COVID-19?

Prior to winter recess, most districts were following state requirements ordering students to self-isolate or self-quarantine for 10 days if they tested positive for COVID-19.

But late last week, California health officials passed new federal guidelines that shortened the recommended isolation and quarantine period for COVID-19 from 10 days to five days for people who had been tested. positive but without symptoms and which test negative after five days. Schools should also adopt this shorter deadline.

Students exposed to someone with COVID-19 should be tested and may need to isolate themselves from other students for a few days depending on their test results and their symptoms. Duration varies.

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