SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — There’s renewed talk of elementary schools — even in counties on the state watchlist — reopening but the process in the Bay Area as it currently stands, varies widely.

As of late Thursday, 81 schools in Santa Clara County have inquired about variances and waivers to allow some schools to restart in-person education.

Under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide guidelines for in-person education, public and private elementary schools can open if the superintendent or head of school for private institutions chooses to apply for waivers. Schools in Santa Clara County can e-mail schools@eoc.sccgov.org to initiate the waiver process.

There’s limited guidance in other counties like San Francisco.

The San Francisco Department of Health is waiting for more waiver guidelines from the state before providing details on the application process, while Santa Clara County has already made it clear how schools can initiate the complicated application process.

Santa Clara County officials believe elementary schools can “reopen for in-person instruction in a manner that is safe for staff and students.”

San Francisco school officials haven’t yet had detailed discussions about waivers for elementary schools.

“I would be more for it if all elementary schools pursue it and not just some because then you’re gonna have the haves and have-nots,” said SFUSD board president Mark Sanchez.

In a letter sent to parents in Santa Clara County, SCC health director Dr. Sarah Cody is “strongly encouraging” those elementary schools which can reopen safely for in-person learning to apply for a waiver.

“Dr. Cody is correct in not treating all K-12 children and K-12 education in the same bucket,” said UC Berkeley professor of epidemiology Art Reingold.

Santa Clara County officials say one reason for “strongly encouraging” elementary schools to follow the process of applying for a waiver is because socio-economically-disadvantaged students will feel the negative impacts of distance learning disproportionately.

Dr. Cody also said the best available science and data indicates “covid-related risks in schools serving elementary-age students appear lower than and different from the risks to staff and students in schools serving older students.”

Schools in San Mateo County can reopen for in-person learning since the county is not currently on the watchlist.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco, which oversees Catholic schools in San Mateo, Marin and San Francisco announced Thursday it will apply for waivers for its elementary schools.

“The primary concern — since severe illness in young children with this virus is very rare — is that perhaps a child would take it to grandparents,” said Dr. Reingold.

“The risk in kids seems to be substantially lower both in terms of getting it as well as transmitting it to others,” said UCSF professor of epidemiology Dr. Peter Chin-Hong.

The San Francisco Department of Health is waiting for the state to issue more guidelines, while Santa Clara has already announced schools can initiate the waiver by sending an e-mail request and will then assign a liaison to review reopening plans.

“If we were to pursue opening elementary schools I think it would be those earlier grades that we would look at but we also have to make sure that our staff felt safe to do it,” Sanchez said.

Parents, teachers and labor unions would have to be on board and have that discussion with the superintendent or the equivalent for a private school before that waiver process can begin.

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