San Joaquin County Public Health Services issued an updated order regarding schools Wednesday afternoon, ordering both public and private institutions to conduct distance learning until further notice.

Dr. Maggie Park, the county public health officer, issued the latest order to maintain consistency with the California Department of Public Health, and to clarify how the state’s order applies to all schools.

In the revised order, Park said the state’s framework allows elementary schools to seek a waiver to conduct in-person instruction, if requested by the superintendent — or the equivalent administrator at private and charter schools.

The fact that the state requires both public and private schools to submit waiver requests means the rule prohibiting in-person instruction in counties on the CDPH COVID-19 watch list applies equally to both public and private schools, Park said.

All schools in San Joaquin County must conduct distance learning until the county is removed from the COVID-19 watchlist for 14 consecutive days, or are granted the waiver.

“The goal is to still have all students return for in-person learning, but only when it is safer for students and their teachers to return to the classroom,” Park said in a media statement. “With COVID-19 continuing to spread throughout the community and impacting our health care systems, it is critical that everyone follow the public health orders and guidance to stop the spread of this disease to the point where we are able to return to our normal daily routines.”

John Winslow, principal of the high school at Lodi Academy, said both his school and elementary school will be conducting distance learning until the county is off the watchlist.

He and elementary principal Patty Osborne had both planned to apply for the waiver to conduct in-person instruction, but the state responded by saying no waiver would be available. There are about 80 students at the high school, and 160 at the elementary school, he said.

“We’ve got a great plan in place, and we’re going to forge ahead,” he said. “But we’re going to do distance learning, and as soon as the county is out of monitoring, we want to bring our students back to the classroom.”

Dale Munsch, principal at St. Peter School, said he and the school’s board of directors would have to take a look at the new order before choosing distance learning.

A statement released by Southern California legal group Tyler & Bursch, LLP, which stated earlier this week that the guidance for reopening schools issued by the CDPH and Gov. Gavin Newsom was not law, Munsch noted.

The law firm, which is representing several California churches in a suit against the governor for mandating remote services, said on its website that while it encourages private schools to follow the guidance when possible, the guidance was “not accompanied by an appropriate Executive Order” that tells private schools to resume instruction solely through distance learning.

Munsch spoke with Park recently to learn more about filing for a waiver to resume in-person instruction, he said.

“She said the state had not finalized that procedure,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to file for it when there’s no waiver to get yet, so we’re going to have to continue looking at things.”

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