As the Bay Area continues to show marked improvement in its overall coronavirus infection rates, the San Ramon Valley Christian Academy in Danville has elected to take advantage of the improvements and has opened its K-8 school for in-person instruction.
Officially opening its doors on Monday, the move was overwhelmingly supported by parents according to school officials who say that social distancing and related health practices will be enforced in order to prevent student exposure to the virus.
"It was pure joy having the Eagles back in our nest," SRVCA Principal Jamie Westgate said on Tuesday. "It was a blessing to our teachers, students and parents. This year's theme is 'together' and it felt so good to be able to do that in person. There were some hiccups around drop-offs and pick-ups, but all of our campus classroom routines worked flawlessly."
SRVCA was recently permitted to reopen in-person learning after Contra Costa County moved into the less restrictive "red" tier -- according to the state's four-tier color-coded system for measuring coronavirus infection rates -- for two consecutive weeks.
Under the red tier -- the second most restrictive classification -- K-12 schools were officially allowed to reopen their campuses as long as certain safety procedures were met, a move that was overwhelmingly supported by SRVCA parents.
"We have surveyed our staff in person and electronically to listen to potential concerns, and they have expressed a high level of support for reopening our campus. From our survey of parents, about 80% are requesting us to reopen our school, and particular areas of concern identified by parents are addressed in this reopening plan, unless beyond our control," school officials said, adding that church leadership also supports the plan.
To support getting students back into the classroom, SRVCA has adopted a series of strategies for keeping students safe throughout the duration of the pandemic. Chief among those strategies being social distancing, diligent sanitization and limiting students' exposure to each other to a minimum.
In an effort to limit students' exposure to one another, all elementary students are grouped into class cohorts that remain separated from other cohorts and will remain stable throughout the entire year.
Classrooms have been set up to maximize space between students -- five to six feet between desks -- as well as between the teacher and students. Class sizes have additionally been reduced and each cohort is assigned to its own room that is not shared with any students or adults outside the cohort.
P.E. will still continue in order to help students stay physical, with spaces divided by physical barriers to keep class cohorts separated if more than one is using the gym or an outdoor space.
During lunch period, class cohorts will remain together and separated from others; portable fencing will also be used to keep class cohorts separated during recess, which will see classes on a rotating schedule to use these different spaces throughout the week.
In the event of rain, students will either remain in their classrooms or sit in designated locations with their class cohorts.
Students, teachers and support staff will also be required to wear face masks throughout the day, with the exception of when eating or drinking. School staff say extra masks will be provided for students if needed and a failure to comply will result in potential disciplinary actions.
Each morning parents are also required to complete an "online health screening" process that includes taking their child's temperature; only once the student passes the screening will they be allowed to come onto campus.
Any student or staff member displaying suspected symptoms of illness such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing, will immediately be removed from class and taken to the school office for isolation and assessment and then sent home. Students who are sent home due to COVID-19 symptoms will then need to pass a negative coronavirus test before being allowed to return to the classroom three days after symptoms resolve.
Additionally, all classrooms, restrooms and office spaces are diligently cleaned and sanitized throughout the day.
School staff added that they have been granted greater use of the campus they share with the Community Presbyterian Church to allow them use of additional and larger rooms for classrooms, ensuring physical distancing among students.
"Because we are a small school, blessed with the support, resources, and campus of a large church, we have many benefits that enable our school to respond to the present circumstances of this pandemic in ways that other schools could not," school officials said.
"While we have been proud of the quality of our distance learning program, we know that even the best remote model can never be as effective or supportive for our students as the in-person teaching offered by our staff. For that reason, we have been fully invested in doing everything necessary to bring our students together in the safest way possible," they added.
SRVCA parents have overall supported the move to reopen, with principal Westgate stating that 94% of students returned to the classroom on the first day of reopening, while 6% chose to continue independent study for two additional weeks before returning to in-person learning.
"I pray that this new time brings much-needed safety while fostering what kids need most -- to be in school! Thank you to the countless hours of preparation from our amazing school SRVCA," SRVCA parent of four Gina Nicholson said.
"I am so grateful to God, the SRVCA administration, CPC church staff and teachers for all the behind the scenes work they have done to allow this amazing day to finally happen! We are beyond thrilled," parent Amethyst Thomas added.
SRVCA is one of the few schools to have reopened in the region, with the neighboring San Ramon Valley Unified School District still operating using remote learning for students.