REDWOOD CITY (KPIX) — Citing the surge in COVID-19 cases on the peninsula and throughout the Bay Area, the head of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors wants to halt all in-person learning.
Board of Supervisors president David Canepa is leading the push to close the schools but district officials are pushing back.
“To even have conversations of keeping schools open, probably not the most responsible thing to do at this point in time,” said Supervisor Canepa.
As of Tuesday evening, only one standard Intensive Care Unit was available in the entire county. However, 88 so-called ICU surge beds were available, according to the county COVID-19 dashboard. Surge beds provide temporary hospital capacity during times of increased demand.
Canepa, who pulled his son out of daycare in December, as San Mateo County dropped back into the purple tier and reinstated a shelter-in-place order, is alarmed at the sharp rise in hospitalizations.
“I’m not convinced that children or young adults or high schoolers can’t spread the virus. So I think what we have to do is we have to remain vigilant, staying at home, is the best thing right now to protect your families,” said Canepa.
However, school re-opening guidelines are issued by the California Department of Public Health, and the San Mateo County Health Department can choose to adopt those guidelines, or issue more stringent orders.
Nancy Magee, San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools, said the county has been “monitoring positive cases in schools through formal testing and contact tracing protocols.”
“There has been no evidence of virus transmission in school environments,” said Magee. “The harm to our students, especially those with the highest needs, as a result of distance learning, is serious and may have long term, lifelong consequences.”
Ultimately, the final decision to reopen is left up to each individual school district. Seven districts in San Mateo County had received waivers to conduct in-person classes, prior to the December lockdown. Under state guidelines, those schools can continue to do so, during the shelter-in-place order.
Erik Burmeister, superintendent of Menlo Park City School District, said the district has been conducting in-person instruction for nearly three months, and pushed back on Canepa’s closure idea.
“I would be the first person to recommend that we move to full distance learning, if I had any evidence, any evidence that having schools open was putting our kids families and staff at unnecessary risk,” said Burmeister. “And right now I just don’t have that evidence, and honestly I don’t think Supervisor Canepa has that evidence either. If he does, I would welcome it, because I really think we have to make data-based decisions.”
Parents at Oak Knoll Elementary in Menlo Park who spoke with KPIX 5, were largely pleased with the district’s re-opening plan, where participating families attend a full week of in-person classes, followed by a full week of distance learning, and alternate for the remainder of the school year.
Thomas Both said socializing and academics have improved for his daughter Alice, a second-grader, because of in-person instruction.
“To me it seems like she does learn better, because we just have struggles at home being on the calls, paying attention,” said Both.
“There’s no such thing as zero risk, you know, at all. Ever. We could all stay home for the next five years, but that isn’t going to happen,” said parent Lexi Costouros.
The San Mateo County Health Department, and the county manager’s office declined to comment.