Governor Gavin Newsom has been firm on his order to keep all public schools closed when the academic year begins next month.
But what he didn't talk about in his pandemic plan, is the exception to the rule:
"A waiver provision" appearing as a footnote buried in a five-page framework for reopening schools could exempt qualifying elementary schools from distance-learning, even if the county is on the state watchlist.
“Yeah that caught all of us by surprise, that one, it was a footnote, and that it would be left up to interpretation as to how this would work,” said Edgar Zazueta.
Interpreting the exception is just what Edgar Zazueta is busy doing. As the Senior Director of Policy for the Association of California's school administrators, it’s his job to help district superintendents figure just how to apply for the waiver, as long as school officials have worked with labor unions and parents.
“We're advising them to work with their individual public health office,” he said.
County health officers can only grant a waiver after considering local COVID-19 data and consulting with the California Department of Public Health.
“There are a lot of communities who, because they're getting pressure from parents too, they saw this and say 'hey, there might be a pathway for us to open,'” said Zazueta.
Jennifer Moore is one of those parents. She pulled her three children out of distance learning and opted for a homeschooling curriculum instead. But urged school officials to at the very least consider the waiver.
“I think we have to look at this as a county by county, district by district situation," she said. "You know South County, East County are more hard-hit than we are in North County."
A San Diego Unified spokeswoman said the district will still stick to its plan to reopen the school year online next month.