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School waiver process underway for elementary classes on campuses, possibly as soon as October

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Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians
Elementary schools could be reopening soon for in-class instruction if Covid-19 rules are set. (Photo: Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Elementary school districts, trying to meet the criteria for reopening, have to meet a full list of guidelines and that process has begun.

According to the State, the district must first has to be in a county that has gone below the cut off point for cases to qualify.

With that compliance, the waiver can be filed to Public Health.

Santa Barbara County is in that situation and the paperwork was made available last week.

Districts need to have teacher and staff testing, called surveillance testing, on a scheduled basis. The first tests will begin soon.

"The goal of local schools is to at least test every other month. It is called surveillance testing of all employees.  There are other protective measures they have to take to get a waiver and the waiver has to be approved by the state," said Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams.

He says the cost will be covered by the County with its funding and also funds from the CARES Act coming from the federal government.

The timeline may vary.

It depends on the size of the school district and the number of staff tests it needs. Williams says it will likely be after October 1, before classes resume on campuses.

The County is looking at blocking off two hours a day for teacher testing and still have room for the general public without delays. That is still being worked out at sites countywide.

The Buellton location has room now for 100 more cases a day, according to health officials speaking to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Santa Barbara County has been seeing a downward trend in COVID-19 numbers and that led to an increase in elementary schools asking for waivers to open in-class learning.

Basic information is required on the application form including, what kind of school is applying, the number of students per class along with  disinfection plans and movement throughout the school.   

They also require staff and family communication plans.

The public health department has staff in place to process the applications and providing technical information.

The forms became available last Friday.

"We have offered the technical assistance for the schools," said Santa Barbara County Health Director Van Do-Reynoso. "Each school district is unique."

When asked about the risks children present in the transmission of COVID-19, "There are several studies that show that children have the presence of the virus," said Do-Reynoso. "There are several studies we have reviewed."

That adds to the level of caution and protective protocols that will be set in place.

For more information go to : Santa Barbara County Health

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT NewsChannel 3 and KCOY 12 Central Coast News.