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School Desk Blog: The science behind our return

As we navigate the pandemic, parents and community members regularly ask about the science behind decisions concerning when to open our schools for in-person learning. The science is finally in, and it tells us we can safely return to in-person instruction with proper mitigation strategies in place. Although, by the time you read this, the data will probably already be obsolete. And that’s the beautiful thing about science; you keep on analyzing and researching to prove or disprove and, most importantly, improve. The evidence is clear that some students don’t thrive in a distance learning environment. The exciting news is that in-person instruction has started and continues to ramp up as COVID-19 numbers drop in our county. 

Our community is fortunate to have a few things going for us, a proactive Ukiah Unified administration who advocated for staff vaccinations, Dr. Coren, who recognized the importance of education during the pandemic, and our strong partnership with the City of Ukiah. Now our outstanding team will do what they do best; educate as many students as possible in-person.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the evidence has been mounting that it is safe to return to school. Consider the following recent data, research, and guidance from the scientists. Keep in mind that much of the information presented here does not have the vaccine’s extra safety factor included in the data.

  • A majority of Marin County Schools have been in-person since the beginning of the school year. As of earlier this week, 22,124 students and 6,859 staff members were involved with in-person learning for 121 days. Thankfully, they haven’t seen a single case of a student to adult transmission. In 1,487,557 student days, there have been only 11 suspected in-school transmissions. You can see their current data here:
  • If everyone is wearing masks, "school transmissions will remain close to zero and cohorts are unnecessary," said Jeanne Ann Noble, an emergency medicine doctor, and director of COVID-19 Response at the University of California, San Francisco.
  • The CDC conducted a study on 17 schools (grades K-12) in Wisconsin. The schools used masks, established small groups of up to 20, and staff maintained 6 feet of distance when possible. During their 13 weeks of in-person learning, seven of the 4,876 students and zero of the 654 staff are known to have contracted COVID-19 at school. No spread is known to have occurred to or from staff in school despite a 7%-40% positivity rate in the community. It was determined that in-person provided “numerous health and societal benefits, especially for children and parents of lower socioeconomic status.”,COVID%2D19%20cases%20were%20reported.
  • "Evidence suggests that many K-12 schools that have strictly implemented mitigation strategies have been able to safely open for in-person instruction and remain open," the CDC said. "K-12 schools should be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures in the community have been employed, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely."
  • Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) updated their social distancing recommendation for children in school to 3 feet. This is the best news we’ve had in quite a while and will allow us to expand our reopening!

Initially, it was necessary to take drastic measures to protect our community from COVID-19. It has been a year now, and science has made tremendous advances in protecting us from COVID-19. Wear a mask, physical distance, wash your hands, get tested, get vaccinated. Ukiah Unified is a state-wide leader in vaccinations, and we are committed to all of the accepted mitigation strategies which will continue to help us open safely. 

We are so excited to welcome all of our students back to the classroom. I appreciate everything everyone has done over the last year to make the best of a nearly impossible situation. Thank you to our exceptional staff, who always do whatever it takes to support our children and their education. Thank you to Mendocino County Public Health and the City of Ukiah. And most importantly, thank you to our students and families who make Ukiah Unified and our community the most fantastic place on earth and a fabulous place to live.