More than 64,000 students in the Elk Grove Unified School District will continue to take online classes or other forms of distance learning this fall.

District officials on Nov. 10 announced they canceled plans to reopen schools for in-person instruction next month since the state placed Sacramento County back into the most restrictive Purple Tier 1 status.

“Please stay tuned for more updates as district officials continue to work in collaboration with labor partners and county public health officials on further guidance,” Elk Grove school districts officials announced in an online statement for parents and district employees.

The district’s campuses have been closed since early March and schools started practicing distance learning this April. Most students are taking online classes at home while the district continues to plan for reopening campuses this winter or next spring, depending on the county’s tier status.

"I am very disappointed we could not move forward with our plans to get elementary students back in the classroom by the end of the year," Elk Grove School Board President Beth Albiani told the Citizen on Nov. 12.  "The health of our students and staff is always the priority, and with the reclassification to purple the science did not support a return at this time. I am hopeful our community health will improve and we can get students back to the classroom early next year."

A rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases recently prompted Sacramento County’s status change from Red to Purple in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy plan.

Sacramento County’s public health staff reported that as of Nov. 10, the county had 9.7 new daily cases per 100,000 residents and a 4.1% test positivity rate. The county experienced a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases in comparison to Nov. 4 when the county reportedly had 7.8 new daily cases per 100,000 and a 3.4% positivity rate.

Since March, Sacramento County 28,721 confirmed cases and 514 deaths, according to Sacramento County public health data. Elk Grove had 2,847 cases and 45 deaths during that same period. Of the county’s confirmed cases, 24,680 are believed to be “likely recovered,” or 21 days have passed since those patients tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Nov. 10, the county had 136 COVID-positive patients in hospitals and 27 in intensive care units. Hospitalizations increased from Oct. 8 when the county had 85 hospitalized patients.

Elk Grove Unified’s canceled reopening plan

The Elk Grove school district’s change in reopening plans occurred two weeks after their district introduced a plan for in-person instruction.

When Sacramento County had the Red Tier 2 status last month, district officials considered reopening elementary schools in December if the county reached the less restrictive Orange Tier 3 status. Following those elementary school reopenings, the district’s middle and high school would have then reopened in January.

At the school board’s Oct. 28 meeting, the district staff presented a “concurrent” learning model that combines in-person instruction with online learning.

Under this plan, students would attend in-person classes twice a week and resume their classes online when they’re not at school. In the classroom, students would still operate laptop computers on their desks and participate in their online classes while their teacher simultaneously teaches online students who stayed home. Parents would still have the option of having their children undergo full distance learning.

Students and staff would also be required to wear face coverings at all times and desks would be placed six feet apart.

The concurrent learning model drew mixed opinions from the school board. Trustee Carmine Forcina argued that the model’s “in-person instruction” element is a misnomer since students are still taking online classes. A few other trustees supported the plan as a step in the right direction to return students to the campuses.

County public health officials stated that individual schools that reopened before Nov. 10 can continue offering in-person instruction. Elk Grove’s private, Christian schools, such as St. Peter’s Lutheran School and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School reopened their campuses in September.

Under the county’s new public health order, school districts that have not yet reopened campuses, like Elk Grove Unified, must wait at least two weeks after Sacramento County returns to the Red Tier status before they can reopen for in-person instruction.