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What you need to know about Covid-19 rules for the upcoming 2022-23 School Year

California leaves masks as optional on TK-12 campuses

Los Alamitos Unified School District Supt. Andrew Pulver welcomes Weaver Elementary school students on their first day of the 2022-23 school year on August 3, 2022. Photo by Nichole Pichardo with the Los Alamitos USD.
Los Alamitos Unified School District Supt. Andrew Pulver welcomes Weaver Elementary school students on their first day of the 2022-23 school year on August 3, 2022. Photo by Nichole Pichardo with the Los Alamitos USD.

It’s happened again. Summer has flown by and school will soon be back in session. For most TK-12 students in Orange County, the 2022-23 school year starts this month.

Meanwhile, some children are already back in class. That includes students at Weaver Elementary School. On August 3, families crowded back onto the Rossmoor campus to start the new school year.

Last week, Weaver was buzzing with energy as students bustled about, toted their backpacks and reunited with friends. Grownups greeted one another, then paused to snap pictures of their children before they ventured into a new year of learning. Teachers welcomed their new pupils with smiles and open arms.

“We’re feeling all the nerves but we’re feeling so excited,” said mother Samantha Roberts whose son was starting his first day of kindergarten.

We have all been dealing with Covid-19 since March of 2020. But for students, teachers and families, this upcoming 2022-23 school year marks a shift.

This is the first academic year to start since the pandemic emerged without a statewide universal indoor mask mandate at TK-12 schools.

The California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) guidance for TK-12 campuses released June 30 reads: “COVID-19 is here to stay, but we have learned methods and gained tools to decrease its impact on our health and well-being. California's schools can manage this disease in sustainable and adaptive manners.”

According to CDPH, that includes being aware of community transmission levels, encouraging vaccination, optimizing indoor air quality on campuses, and increasing the availability of testing.

Orange County currently ranks in the “high” transmission category by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . The number of Covid-19 positive people hospitalized in the area has dropped in recent days.

Health officials are still cautious. “I’m predicting that after the kids come back to school ... we probably will have another wave in early fall,” Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Healthcare Agency, was quoted as saying in a recent L.A. Times story . (Spotlight Schools emailed questions to OCHCA but did not hear back before the deadline.)

Remember there are levels of guidance when it comes to Covid-19. The CDC, the California Department of Public Health, county health care agencies and local school districts can all implement protocols and issue recommendations.

Based on what we’ve read at these levels, it appears there will continue to be an easing of Covid-related restrictions at TK-12 schools this academic year.

CNN recently reported that the CDC will soon loosen Covid-19 rules for communities, including for schools. Chalkbeat reports most districts are already doing that, including in Orange County.

After being the only school district in O.C. requiring Covid-19 testing for students and staff, Santa Ana Unified announced it will drop mandatory Covid-19 testing this school year, according to The O.C. Register.

Guidance to school administrators from the Orange County Health Care Agency reads: “Effective July 1, 2022, all individual student case reporting stops.” Schools are now only required to report to local health officials when there’s an outbreak of Covid-19 which is when three or more people within a classroom or group activity test positive for Covid-19 within 14 days.

CDPH guidance still recommends “families notify schools if their child has COVID-19 and was on school grounds during their infectious period ” so campuses can inform other families of a potential exposure.

Some school districts, including Los Alamitos Unified, will continue to notify families of confirmed Covid-19 infections and will update the dashboard that tracks cases among staff and students on a weekly basis.

So what does this all mean for you? Here is what you can expect with Covid-19 rules for school this year.

Photo by Waldemar Brandt via Unsplash
Photo by Waldemar Brandt via Unsplash

MASKS RECOMMENDED, NOT REQUIRED

CDPH will continue to make face coverings optional for students and staff at TK-12 schools. Wearing a well-fitting, higher-quality (N95 or K95, not cloth) mask is strongly recommended for indoor spaces. For tips on masking for children, see this CDPH flyer.

COVID-19 VACCINATION ENCOURAGED

Public health officials continue to urge everyone who is able to get fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Right now vaccines are available for people six months and older.

There is no statewide Covid-19 vaccination mandate for TK-12 students. The earliest it could take effect is July 1, 2023, according to the CDPH. State lawmakers could act before that date but a bill that would have enacted a Covid-19 vaccine requirement for students was pulled in April.

Still, school staff and campus volunteers are required to show proof of vaccination against Covid-19 or provide a negative Covid-19 test on a weekly basis.

ISOLATION/QUARANTINE/EXPOSURE

Right now, the OCHCA guidance for schools says people who test positive for Covid-19 should isolate for five days per CDPH guidelines. For people deemed a “close contact” of someone infected with Covid-19, no quarantine is required as long as you do not develop symptoms or test positive. “Students may continue to take part in all aspects of K–12 schooling including sports and extracurricular activities,” reads the CDPH guidance. It’s recommended “close contacts” test 3 to 5 days after their exposure and wear a mask around others.

Remember school districts can implement stronger rules than CDPH or OCHCA so be sure to check with your local leaders.

Last month, the San Diego Unified School District required masking indoors during summer school after San Diego County was placed in the “high” category for Covid-19 transmission by the CDC.

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