Alexander Cherniss

Alexander Cherniss is superintendent of Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified Schools.

The State of Oregon currently allows for in-person instruction K-12 when the COVID-19 positivity rate is less than 50 per 100,000.  As such, their students are in desks on campus as are those in most other states.  

California’s tiered approach for reopening after the coronavirus lockdown allows for in-person learning for grades K- 6 while in the Purple Tier (COVID-19 rate of less than 25 per 100,000) and grades 7-12 while in the Red Tier (COVID-19 rate of less than 7 per 100,000). 

The problem with this system is middle and high school students aren’t close to returning to campuses since 54 out of 58 counties are above 7 cases per 100,000. LA County, for example, is at 38 cases per 100,000, solidly in the Purple Tier.  

However, there is a nonsensical caveat to this criterion. If you are in a county which at one point was in the Red Tier, for example last September, but are now in the Purple Tier, all of your schools can remain open. That’s correct. No data, no science, these schools can stay open even while in the Purple Tier. 

As a result, we have a situation where Orange County, Ventura County and LA County have almost identical COVID-19 positivity rates, yet Orange County and Ventura County middle and high schools can remain open while LA County schools must stay closed. 

This is a policy decision to grandfather in counties and is obviously based more on politics than on science. 

More now on science: The CDC director recently commented schools can reopen safely without vaccinating teachers. Almost a year ago, the former CDC director testified before Congress, stating masks are arguably safer than a vaccine. 

The Southern California Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics again published its position that all schools should be open. Scientific study after study supports the fact that schools can and should safely reopen.  

The solution is simple. Governor Gavin Newsom must allow for all schools and all grades to reopen in the Purple Tier effective immediately.  

We have hundreds of pages of policies and protocols along with millions of dollars invested in PPE and air filtration systems. Our schools are more than ready to serve kids. If we wait until our cases dip below 7 per 100,000, we could be in the summer, the fall, or who knows when.  

There is an inherent inequity in the determination of who can attend school and who cannot, based on which county you live in and not based on science.

California must align with science, not just when it is convenient politically, but always. Vaccinations are critically important but slow to implement. The science states that all K-12 schools should reopen now. 

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