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Mendocino County health officials greenlight school opening

Mendocino County health officials have cleared county schools to reopen classroom instruction for kindergarten through sixth grade despite the still-widespread presence of COVID-19 within the community.

School leaders are celebrating the step, which comes on the heels of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s push for schools to commit to a firm timetable for reopening.

“We are looking forward to welcoming our incredible students back to campuses when local conditions allow it,” Ukiah Unified School District Superintendent Deb Kubin said in a statement Saturday. “We have taken all of the necessary steps to support a safe transition.”

The date schools will reopen was not clear Sunday. “The process for reopening schools is complex and will take time,” the county said in a news release asking the public for its patience.

The Ukiah Unified School District has targeted Feb. 16 for reopening, likely making it the first district in the county to resume in-person learning, Ukiah Teachers Association president Terry d’Selkie said in a phone interview Sunday.

Mendocino County is among a handful of counties in the region to commit to reopening this spring. The county’s announcement targets more than 7,000 of the district’s 13,245 students, and county officials say students in all grades will get the green light once the county is able to further reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Schools will be required to complete, and seek approval of a safety plan from public health officials with the county and the state, including plans for communication, protocols for exposure and surveillance testing, according to documents provided by Mendocino County.

“We are now able to start the process of reopening our schools due to our efforts as a community to avoid gatherings, wear masks and maintain social distance,” Mendocino County Public Health Officer Dr. Andrew Coren said in a statement.

The county remains in the lowest rung of the state’s reopening framework — the purple tier. All but four counties statewide are in that tier, but Mendocino County officials, citing vaccination and planning efforts, have indicated schools are ready to reopen.

“We here at Public Health are thrilled that our efforts to vaccinate as many teachers as possible have been successful, with much assistance from the Mendocino County Office of Education, Mendocino County school districts, schools, teachers, staff, parents, community partners, rural clinics and Adventist Health,” Coren said.

The Ukiah Teachers Association opposed a plan put forth by district trustees last summer that would have reopened schools there in the fall, with dozens protesting outside district headquarters in late July, according to an article in the Ukiah Daily Journal. But the union approved the latest reopening plan last week thanks to key protections for teachers, d’Selkie said Sunday.

“We were really happy with our district for making sure our teachers have the option to get vaccinations,” d’Selkie said. “Our leadership really pushed for that.”

Tessa Ford, Willits Teacher Association President, said reopening has been a fraught issue among her membership, which nevertheless has leaned against returning to the classroom in recent weeks.

“We want to be back in the classroom so bad it hurts,” Ford said. “But it has to be safe.”

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @tylersilvy

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