COVID-19 - Dr. Jim Halverson

Dr. Halverson: Thank you, Ojai Unified, for reopening elementary schools

web 4 17 Halverson photo
By Dr. Jim Halverson
Elementary students through fifth grade returned to their classrooms in a hybrid format this past Monday, Nov. 2. Under the guidance of Superintendent Tiffany Morse and support from teachers, staff and the school board, Ojai Unified School District became just the second district in the county to reopen since our coronavirus case numbers declined enough to put our county in Tier 2 in October.
Extensive planning, preparation, cooperation and education of teachers, staff and parents preceded this opening. This past summer, our school district offered onsite programs at Miramonte Elementary School and Nordhoff High School. It was an invaluable experience for all involved. 
The daily attendance at Miramonte was approximately 60 students. According to the administrator in charge of the elementary program, Miramonte Principal Katherine White, both students and staff enjoyed being back together on a school campus despite all of the safety protocols that were required. Mrs. White shared: “The masks hid their smiles, but their eyes told the story. They were happy to be here!” 
In addition,  OUSD has held numerous preparatory meetings with teachers and staff. The school district has also held town halls for parents and provided extensive information on its website and through direct communication to student’s homes. 
Thus far, the data on coronavirus cases from school districts that have reopened, both in the United States and internationally, have been encouraging, especially at the elementary school level. According to an Oct. 21 National Public Radio article, two new international studies show no consistent relationship between in-person K-12 schooling and the spread of the coronavirus. A third study from the United States showed no significant elevated risk to teachers and staff who stayed on the job. 
An additional reliable report came from Utah, according to the article. Utah’s state data base reports school-associated cases by district. While coronavirus spread is relatively high in Utah, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson believes that schools are not, for the most part, driving the spread of the coronavirus. “Where you see cases on the rise in a neighborhood or in a county, we see that tend to be reflected in a school,” Dickson said. “But we’re not seeing spread by virtue of being in school together.”
Tom Hudachko of Utah’s state health department said that after both colleges and schools reopened in early September, there was a rise in cases among the 15 to 24 age group. But with targeted public health messaging, those cases have started to come down. For the most part, Hudachko said, K-12 school clusters have been concentrated at high schools. “We have had some outbreaks in middle schools. They’ve been far less frequent. And elementary school numbers seem to be one-offs here and there.” These clusters, including one large outbreak with at least 90 cases, have largely been traced to informal gatherings in homes, not to classrooms.
OUSD is extremely well prepared to reopen its elementary schools. Its protocols and information in English and Spanish are clear and concise for parents, teachers and staff. Also, it has gone far beyond that by offering mental health services for students, parent support groups, free meals for students, technology support, and Family Fund support to help with computers, clothing and other needs. Most importantly, our school district has an outstanding group of administrators, teachers and staff that we in Ojai can be very grateful for.
How can we help our schools?  Keep our Ojai Valley as safe as possible by following the guidelines to lessen the spread of COVID-19. The lower the number of cases, the more likely middle school and high school can reopen for the second semester in late January. Support our schools financially if you can. Volunteer to help a teacher or student. Thank our school district personnel for their outstanding dedication and commitment to our students. They need our support and our appreciation during this very challenging time.
Stay well informed, stay committed, stay optimistic, stay safe and stay well.


— Dr. Jim Halverson of Ojai is a longtime Ojai physician who writes a weekly column on COVID-19 for Ojai Valley News.

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