You may hear that the conservative majority on the school board in California’s Orange County voted for schools in 27 districts under its jurisdiction to open for the 2020-21 academic year — without a mandate for masks or social distancing but plenty of hand washing. The recommendation, however, does not mean that schools will actually open at all or in the way the board wants.

With covid-19 rates spiking in California, the Orange County Board of Education, voted 4 to 1 on Monday night to reopen school buildings for all students and cast it as an act of bravery. A report with the reopening recommendation on which the board acted said in part:

Among the many compelling expert arguments for reopening our schools, a number of us were also struck by something different, something we might call advice for adults. Several panelists — policy experts and medical doctors — admonished us to remember that the data is clear, but data should not penetrate fear. Among our greatest responsibilities as adults is our responsibility to model courage and persistence in the face of uncertainty and fear, which is what many families are feeling with the mixed messages and confusion surrounding reopening of schools in the COVID-19 era.

The vote, however, has no effect on school districts, which can and are making their own decisions. Many of them are trying to follow the guidelines set by state health officials, according to the Orange County Register. Those guidelines say that infection rates in a community must play a part in the decision.

Leaders of the Santa Ana Unified School District, for example, voted recently to offer parents a choice between all-virtual education or a hybrid of in-school and virtual.

The Orange County board’s vote was a nod to President Trump, who has called for schools around the country to fully open and operate despite the rise in infection rates that prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to reimpose restrictions on state residents.

Other California districts, like many in other states, are ignoring Trump’s demand. The Los Angeles Unified School District and the San Diego Unified School District both announced Monday they will open with an all-virtual program.

The Orange County recommendation report mentioned seven guidelines:

  • K-12 children represent the lowest-risk cohort for covid-19. Because of that fact, social distancing of children and reduced census classrooms is not necessary and therefore not recommended.
  • Requiring children to wear masks during school is not only difficult — if not impossible to implement — but not based on science. It may even be harmful and is therefore not recommended.
  • Children play a very minor role in the spread of covid-19. Teachers and staff are in greater danger of infection from other adults, including parents, than from students in their classrooms.
  • Participation in any reopening of public education should be voluntary. These guidelines are not“laws” or “regulations” or even “rules.” Parents, not government officials, are in the best position to determine the education environment that best suits their children. If a school district is unable or unwilling to provide that education, parents should be allowed to send their children to a district or charter school that will provide that education. Some parents with the means will opt for private schools or home schooling.
  • Temperature checks should be performed regularly. As with any illness, ill children, teachers, or staff should be sent home and if identified not allowed to be on campus.
  • As always, good hygiene with frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer should be encouraged.
  • Classrooms, meeting rooms, transportation vehicles (e.g., busses) and administrative offices should be thoroughly cleaned each night

Here is a document with the board’s meeting agenda and the recommendations on reopening: