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Riverside County suspends school waivers as coronavirus cases climb

Riverside County suspends school waivers as coronavirus cases climb

With COVID-19 cases rapidly rising, Riverside County announced this week it has temporarily suspended the waiver application process that lets some schools reopen for in-person instruction.

On Oct. 20, Riverside County returned to the most-restrictive purple tier of the state’s coronavirus reopening plan. In this tier, only pre-school, kindergarten and elementary schools can resume on-campus classes if local and state health officials approve a waiver.

That process is now on hold after the county’s case adjusted rate doubled over the past two weeks. Riverside County’s current rate is 22.4 cases per 100,000 residents. The rate was 13.9 last week and 11.2 two weeks ago.

First-grader Angelica Hluchan, 6, gets her temperature checked by teacher Allie Garcia before entering the classroom at St. John’s School in Hemet on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. St. John’s is received a waiver to resume in-person classes elementary students. This week, Riverside County said it has temporarily halted the waiver process as coronavirus cases climb. (File photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

“The school waiver program is being temporarily suspended until the case rate returns to below 14, the threshold required by the state,” Riverside County spokeswoman Brooke Federico said Friday, Nov. 20.

San Bernardino County officials continue to accept waiver applications.

With the current Riverside County case rate, Federico said any waiver application would not be approved by county Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser or the California Department of Public Health.

Thirty private schools in Riverside County have had waivers approved as of Friday, Nov. 20, according to the Riverside University Health System’s website. The Corona-Norco Unified School District is the county’s only public school district to have a waiver approved, but its elementary schools are not set to return for in-person lessons until January.

Schools that already welcomed back students and teachers — either through a waiver or during the short time Riverside County was in the less-restrictive red tier — can stay open. Any schools or districts that have won approval for a waiver but have not yet reopened can do so under the terms of their waiver. Any applications currently in the waiver pipeline won’t be submitted for state approval. Two applications are listed as pending.

San Bernardino County is also is in the purple tier and has seen a record number of new COVID-19 cases in recent days. But the county has no plans to halt the school waiver process at this time, San Bernardino County Department of Public Health spokeswoman Lana Culp said.

“We continue to review the data and metrics on a constant basis and will make decision based on those numbers,” Culp said.

More than 100 schools in San Bernardino County, public and private, have been allowed to reopen via waivers, and 21 more schools await approval. Six schools in the county have had applications denied because their community’s case rate was above the state threshold.

Press Enterprise