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Dear GUSD Staff, Families and Students,

My letter this week is devoted to the topic of reopening schools.  As I shared with you at the October 15 GUSD Board Meeting and in my Friday letter on October 16, a decision about if and when students and staff will return to school will not be made before January 2021.  Until then, our students and staff will continue to participate in distance learning.  In the meantime, district leadership and members of the Reopening Planning Committee are reviewing studies and data; developing protocols; assessing the district’s readiness to open and much more.   Most importantly, staff are going through each page of the guidance from the Public Health Department and assessing the district’s readiness to reopen. I want to share with you some of the information that is under review.

COVID-19 Prepared: Reopening of Santa Clara County K-12 Schools for the 2020-21 School Year (view full document)

Before the District can reopen schools, staff must prepare and post a plan that addresses all of the components in this document. The document was written in partnership by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and the Santa Clara County Office of Education.  It was initially released on June 30, 2020 and a revised version was re-released on September 21, 2020.  District leadership and the Reopening Planning Committee are using this document to assess our readiness to reopen and if we reopen, in what model.

Social Distancing

One of the most significant aspects of the COVID-19 Prepared report is the social distancing requirements.  Classrooms will be organized with a six-foot perimeter around the teacher’s desk and student desks will be six-feet apart.  I thought it would be helpful for you to see classrooms with this classroom layout both at the elementary and secondary level:

Classroom layout

Given the current guidelines, there will only be room for 10-12 desks in a typical classroom, which will determine how many students can be on campus at one time and the type of instructional model implemented.  Additionally, protocols are being developed for student and staff use of the entire campus including restrooms, keeping in mind the social distancing requirements.

Impacts on other services for students

The requirements for social distancing on school buses will have a major impact on our transportation routes and schedules.  Buses that typically transport 60-80 students will only transport 15-20 students. 

There will also be many impacts on food service for our students e.g. grab and go meals, students spaced 6 ft. apart, meals likely served outdoors or in classrooms, etc. 

Stakeholder survey results

As part of the planning process, we recently surveyed parents and guardians, students, certificated staff, classified staff and paraeducators.  A summary of the results and charts can be found at this link.

Of particular significance were the responses to statements about comfort levels returning to school on a scale from 1-5 (one being not comfortable at all and five being very comfortable). 

  • Almost 60% of certificated staff (which are primarily our teachers) indicated a low comfort level (1 or 2) returning to school;
  • 48% of classified staff indicated a low comfort level (1 or 2) returning to school;
  • About 45% of parents and guardians indicated high comfort level (4 or 5) with students returning to school and 42% indicated they are not comfortable (1 or 2) with their children returning to school;
  • Students (in grades 5-12) had the highest comfort levels of returning to school with almost 52% selecting a 4 or 5 and 31% selecting a 1 or 2

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE’s) and Protective Barriers for Classrooms and Offices

The district currently has a 60-90 day supply of masks, face shields, gowns, gloves, disinfectant wipes and liquids, and cleaning supplies and has ordered more of each of these products.  Many are on back order due to the incredible demand nation-wide.

Glass barriers have been installed in all offices in the district and portable glass barriers are in stock to be used in classrooms and offices as needed.

Ventilation
District staff are consulting with experts, attending webinars, and assessing ventilation systems throughout the district.  New guidance has recently been issued by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.  This new guidance may have an impact on the reopening decision.

COVID-19 Cases and Studies

One of the important topics under consideration by the Reopening Planning Committee and by district staff and the Board is COVID-19 data at all levels. Of particular interest is Gilroy-specific data and the COVID-19 data as it relates to children.

Gilroy has the highest rate per 100,000 of COVID19 cases of all the cities in Santa Clara County.  This rate is nearly double the second highest, San Jose.

cases per 100000

Gilroy’s positivity rate of 3% is higher than the County’s positivity rate of 1.2%.  It is also higher than the positivity rate for California and the U.S.  Please see the chart below:

percentage infected

In Santa Clara County, the number of total cumulative cases of COVID19 is 23,679.  The seven-day rolling average of new cases per day has increased from 103 two weeks ago to 117 yesterday (10/22/20) indicating an upward trend in new cases and total cumulative cases.   The County has reported 385 deaths.

The number of new cases per day in the United States has significantly increased since early September when there were around 30,000 new cases per day.  Comparatively, on October 22, 2020, there were over 70,000 new cases.  Health experts have been warning that the U.S. will experience a new wave of the COVID-1919 virus going into the winter months when people will spend much more time indoors.  It appears this has already begun.

COVID-19 and Children

On October 19, 2020, the American Academy of Pediatrics released recent data relating to cases of COVID-19 in children.  On October 15, 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases in children in the U.S. was 741,891 which accounts for 10.9% of the cases from all age groups from the states reporting data and a rate of 986 per 100,000. 

In Santa Clara County, 17.4 % of the COVID-19 cases are in the age group 19-and- younger.  Although the age breakdown is not available for Gilroy, if the County’s rate (17.4%) was applied to Gilroy’s cases (1,627), roughly 283 cases would be in the 19- and-younger category. 

The following quote from an article posted by the CDC on September 17, 2020, COVID-19 in Children and Teens, captures current thinking about COVID-19 and children:

While fewer children have been sick with COVID-19 compared to adults, children can be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, can get sick from COVID-19, and can spread the virus that causes COVID-19 to others.

Children, like adults, who have COVID-19 but have no symptoms (“asymptomatic”) can still spread the virus to others. Most children with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or have no symptoms at all. However, some children can get severely ill from COVID-19.

The largest study to date of the COVID-19 virus was conducted in India recently and included 85,000 cases and 600,000 contacts.  One of the conclusions from the scientists in this study is that “children of all ages can become infected with the coronavirus and spread it to others.”  “Huge Study of Cases in India Offers Some Surprises to Scientists.The New York Times.  30 September 2020.

Another recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation concluded:

The latest available data indicates that, while children who are infected with COVID-19 are more likely to be asymptomatic and less likely to experience severe disease (though a small subset become quite sick), they are capable of transmitting to both children and adults. Taken together, the evidence indicates that where there is already widespread community transmission, as in many areas in the U.S., [such as in Gilroy, DF] there is clearly a risk of further spread associated with reopening schools. The risks of reopening need to be considered carefully in light of the recognized benefits of in-person education. (Michaud and Kates)

Closing

Our district is committed to providing the safest educational environment possible for our students and staff during this pandemic.  For this reason, we are engaged in a thorough and comprehensive review of all the factors that impact the decision about if we will reopen schools and if so, when schools will reopen during the 2020-21 school year.  District leadership and the Reopening Committee will continue to meet and plan for several possible scenarios and an update will be provided to the Board and our stakeholders in January 2021.

The surge of COVID-1919 cases across the United States is a serious concern and my sincere hope is that California can avoid another big increase in cases.  While I am eager to have our staff and students return to in-person learning, our board members and leadership team, and Reopening Committee members agree that the health and safety of our staff members, students, families and community is our top priority as we begin to determine the steps we must take to reopen.  Not only must we adhere to the guidelines set forth by the CDC, Public Health Department, and the County Office of Education, it is our obligation to take all necessary precautionary steps to combat the impact of the COVID-19 virus in Gilroy.

We continue to encourage you to follow the guidelines set forth by the Public Health Department to practice safe social distancing, avoid large gatherings, wear masks, wash hands with soap frequently, and conduct at-home health screenings to ensure the safety of our entire community. 

Thank you for your vigilance and have a good, safe weekend.

Take care,

Dr. Deborah A. Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent
Gilroy Unified School District

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