'Emotional health of our students': Bay Area schools continue to push to reopen amid rising COVID-19 cases

PIEDMONT, Calif. (KGO) -- November was supposed to be the final push before students in the Piedmont Unified School District could start coming back to campus. Then Alameda County reverted to the purple tier as COVID-19 cases began to sharply rise.

"We keep flip flopping," said Randal Booker, the Piedmont Unified Superintendent. "That push and pull takes a toll."

His district had been working on their reopening plans since they sent students home in March.

Back in October, he said, they submitted a waiver for a hybrid model that would be allowed even in the purple tier.

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"We submitted that waver quite purposefully. It was an insurance policy. We talked about it very publicly at the board meetings. We knew come winter we would probably be moving back as a county to the purple tier and we wanted that waiver in our back pocket so that we could continue with an in-person or hybrid learning model," said Booker.

They also submitted a formal proposal to reopen within the red tier, with a goal of allowing students back on December 3.

"We worked harder, developed plan that had testing for staff, lots of logistical information about entrance, egress, departure, cleaning, disinfecting. It's a 70 page document," said Booker.

He said there was broad consensus among staff, parents and students in the district to reopen, particularly due to the fatigue of distance learning and social isolation of students.

"The social and emotional health of our students is the number one reason why we pushed so hard to come back to in-person learning," he said.

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But as Alameda County reverted back to the purple tier this week, those plans were put on hold. Booker said the county won't even process their waiver from October either.

"That was a double hit for us," he said.

Meantime, in San Francisco, public schools remain closed as well, though there is now a date for reopening.

On Tuesday the San Francisco Board of Education approved a reopening plan that would allow students to return on January 25, 2021.

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As they listen to public comment, one parent broke down as her two young twins could be heard in the background urging school to resume in-person learning.

"We can't wait until science proves that COVID-19 is fully gone before kids go back to school," said the parent, audibly holding back tears.

Across the country, in New York City, some schools had been able to resume classes. But on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced public schools in the city would be closing, an abrupt announcement as the city's COVID-19 test positivity rate rose above 3% for the first time since late May.

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