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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

What Will School Look Like in the Fall?

By Steven D. Herrington, Ph.D., Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools

The year 2020 has been one of uncertainty for students, their families, and school staff alike. Once again, I am amazed by the resilience and strength of our school community, which in the last three years has faced fires, floods, power shutoffs, and now a pandemic. I want to thank parents, guardians, students, and community members for the patience and adaptability they’ve shown when confronted with one challenge after another.

As we head into the fall, I know that families are eager to hear what school will look like for their children.

Safety During Uncertain Times I want to be honest and transparent: Schools are dealing with perhaps the most challenging set of circumstances I’ve ever seen in my four decades in education. As of presstime, we unfortunately do not have all the answers. We have seen state guidance on important issues, like masks, change repeatedly within the space of a month. The virus itself will dictate how safe it is to reopen schools, and we cannot accurately predict what the state of the virus will be in mid-August.

However, I can confidently assure you of one thing: student and staff health and safety will be the top priority when reopening schools.

My office, the Sonoma County Office of Education, in collaboration with the 40 Sonoma County school districts that we support, is working closely with the Sonoma County Department of Health Services and the California Department of Health Services to ensure student safety.

Ultimately, each school district will need to work with their local conditions. So the best source of information on what your child’s school will look like in the fall is your local school district.

I am encouraging each school district to make sure the concerns of their communities are being addressed. Additionally, I am urging each school district to offer distance-learning options.

In our reopening guidance for schools, which you can find at, we encourage each school district to keep the following guiding principles in mind:

1. Protect student, staff, and community health.

2. Foster student learning and progress.

3. Maintain positive learning environments.

4. Foster student emotional health.

5. Care for our most vulnerable populations.

What We Know (and Don’t Know) While we don’t know exactly what the local and state guidelines will be in August, it is safe to say that school will look very different than usual.

Based on current state and local orders, here is some of what you can expect:

• It is likely that all children and staff will have to wear masks (per state requirements) unless they have a health condition or disability that prevents it.

• Children and staff will need to maintain social distancing.

• Families will be asked to screen themselves and their children for symptoms of COVID-19 before sending their children to school.

• Schools may conduct a second wellness check once the children arrive.

• Schools will focus heavily on good hygiene and hand-washing practices.

• Class sizes may be smaller, and, as much as possible, classes will be kept from mixing.

• Children may eat lunch in their classrooms to keep groups from mixing.

• Children may spend more time outdoors, as outdoor environments are considered much safer.

All these guidelines can seem daunting to any parent. They are probably especially daunting to a parent whose transitional kindergartner or kindergartener will be starting school for the first time. I want to assure you that school leaders, as well as teachers, are aware of these concerns and will be working hard to make classrooms warm and welcoming environments despite these necessary health measures.

Prepare Your Child It’s important to prepare your child and assuage any fears they may have around the start of school.

• Talk about what school will look like based on the information in this article or more specific information from your school district.

• Explain why modifications to the normal school environment are necessary. Tell children that they can be part of the solution by hand-washing, wearing a mask, and more.

• Prepare them for the fact that drop-off and pickup locations may be different than what they’ve experienced in the past.

• Have your child practice wearing a mask and maintaining six feet of distance from others when you go out in public with them, so that it does not feel strange or unusual when school starts.

• If your child is new to school, before school starts, visit the school site if it is open so that they can become familiar with the environment.

• Remind them that school is still a positive place full of caring people; it will just look different.

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