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State-issued protective gear distributed to Sonoma County school districts

Since time immemorial, the notion of back-to-school supplies meant pencils, notebooks and binders. For the 2020-21 school year, school supplies have a new look: Face shields, cloth masks and touchless thermometers.

While all local schools are prohibited from providing in-person instruction until Sonoma County is off the state’s coronavirus watch list for 14 consecutive days, the county’s 40 individual school districts are preparing for the day they can welcome students and staff back to campuses for classes.

And under state and county health and safety guidelines, that will require protective gear.

On Wednesday a forklift driven by Sonoma County Office of Education staffer Jorge Torres hoisted a succession of pallets into the back a Santa Rosa City Schools box truck. Wrapped tightly in plastic casing were tens of thousands of masks, gallons of hand sanitizer and thousands of face shields. All were bound for a district warehouse where they will be prepped and distributed to campuses to be ready for kids to return to school.

It was a scene that has been playing out up and down the state in recent days as shipments of personal protective equipment from California’s Office of Emergency Services has arrived at county offices of education where they are then distributed to individual districts.

Locally, that has meant 64,300 cloth masks for secondary students; 84,500 cloth masks for kindergarten through sixth graders; 64,300 disposable masks for secondary students; 84,500 disposable masks for primary students; 16,000 adult-sized cloth masks; 33,000 disposable masks for adults; 16,600 face shields; 1,000 touchless thermometers; 2,700 gallons of hand sanitizer and 2,000 N95 masks for nurses.

Those supplies are divided between districts according to enrollment figures, according to county schools chief Steve Herrington.

When districts exhaust their 60-day supply, they will have access to reorder through the Office of Emergency Services using the state’s bulk rate purchasing power, Herrington said.

And this week’s delivery should buy time for districts whose earlier PPE orders dating back to March were hung up or diverted to other locations. Santa Rosa City Schools, the county’s largest district with nearly 16,000 students, has had orders dating back months only arriving now.

Items like hand sanitizer have remained hot commodities and orders placed did not guarantee they would be delivered.

“We thought we were early in the game,” said Rick Edson, deputy superintendent of Santa Rosa City Schools. “When orders started shipping, we’d hear ’This has been diverted to front-line entities.’”

“We are still waiting for our big bulk orders to come in,” he said.

The district has ordered additional gloves, gowns, N95 masks and thermometers.

The state delivery this week gives many districts a little more breathing room as officials prepare to assess how fast school sites use up their supplies once campuses are repopulated.

“It is very much appreciated and it does help us,” Edson said. “We have been very proactive since March, give or take, when this all of this started happening about securing PPE and moving into next school year because we didn’t know if or what the state or even the federal government would provide.”

Once the state prohibition on in-person learning is cleared and school districts can reopen classrooms, they must meet a slew of health and safety guidelines, much of them predicated on equipment. In addition, campuses and classrooms must be reconfigured to allow for 6 feet of social distancing and providing alternatives to spaces that were once communal.

Even as districts focus on online-only instruction when classes begin mid-August, work is happening on campuses across Sonoma County to ready the physical spaces that may soon host teachers, students and staff.

The local PPE distribution site, a gymnasium on the campus of Amarosa Academy on Dutton Avenue, had the feel of an emergency operation center Wednesday. Boxes stacked on pallets reached in some cases 6 feet into the air. Pallets were wrapped and marked for pickup by area districts. The county office is expected to deliver to a number of smaller, more rural school districts that do not have the means to transport loads the size of those stacked up in Santa Rosa, Herrington said.

Rincon Valley Union School District took receipt of its shipment Wednesday, as did Cloverdale, Old Adobe and West Sonoma County districts.

“We are thrilled,” said Tracy Smith, superintendent of Rincon Valley Union School District.

Rincon Valley, like Santa Rosa, has been ordering gear all summer but this week’s delivery is a boon regardless.

“We absolutely have been backing ourselves up since May with creating stockpiles,“ Smith said.

“It’s extremely helpful,” she said. “We found out maybe 6 weeks ago that maybe some of this was coming in.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.

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