Schools: K-12 FAQs

Schools and the State Tier System

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  • What determines if a school is considered “reopened” for in-person learning?
    • Schools that were operating only in the manner permitted under the Cohort Guidance are therefore not “open” under the July 17 framework.  For example, a school serving 10 students for in-person instruction under the cohort guidance is not “open” for in-person instruction, since such operations are permitted regardless of the school reopening framework.
    • If a middle or high school only had specialized groups of students back on campus, then according the cohort guidance, the school was not considered to be “open.” That school(s) will need to wait until a county was back in the red tier for two weeks to open for in-person instruction.
    • If a school had already started their in-person instruction phased reopening, while the county was in the Red Tier, the LHO can allow that school to continue phasing in later grades even if the county reverted back to the Purple Tier.
    • Under the cohort guidance, “limited instruction” refers to the 14:2 ratio of students to teachers and can be done “in person”.   
  • What is the difference between a cohort and being open?

    Regardless of a county’s tier status, schools may serve small groups of students pursuant to the CDPH cohort guidance (e.g., serve small groups of students with disabilities) and/or open elementary schools pursuant to a waiver. The school reopening framework set the rules for when “school[s] and school districts may reopen for in-person instruction.” The term “open” or “reopen,” as used in the framework, refers to operations that are permitted only if the county satisfies the eligibility requirements for schools to “open” or “reopen” (i.e., red tier for 14+ days).  This is in contrast to activities permitted under the Cohort Guidance even for schools that are not permitted to reopen under the July 17 school reopening framework. 

  • If a school is currently implementing a phased reopening plan can they continue bringing students back while in the purple Tier (Tier 1)?

    If a school was implementing a phased reopening while the county was in the Red Tier, the school site may continue their phased reopening when the county reverts back to the Purple Tier, if authorized by the LHO. This is only applicable to individual school sites.

    If a district had a phased reopening of their schools, the schools in that district that did not open for in-person instruction (i.e. had not started a phased reopening) may not reopen until the county is back in the Red Tier for 2 weeks.

  • Can athletics continue while the county is placed in Tier 1 (Purple)?

    Physical conditioning, practice, skill-building, and training that can be conducted outdoors, with 6 feet of physical distancing, and within stable cohorts are authorized regardless of county tier status. Such activities may be conducted indoors consistent with restrictions by Tier in the Gym & Fitness Center Guidance Capacity.

    In counties under the Regional Stay at Home Order, only activities consistent with the statement immediately above are permitted, regardless of the county's tier status. Please see the CDPH Youth Sports Guidance (PDF) and Youth Sports FAQs for further details.

  • Is authority form the Public Health Officer needed to continue phased reopening in Tier 1 (Purple)?

    If a school was implementing a phased re-opening while the county was in Tier 2 (Red), the school site may continue their phased re-opening when the county reverts back to Tier 1 (Purple) as designed. No additional approval from the local Public Health Authority is needed in this scenario. This is only applicable to individual school sites. If a district has a phased reopening of their schools, the schools in that district that did not open for in-person instruction may not re-open until the county is back in Tier 2 (Red) for 2 weeks.

  • Can schools continue to have offices open with classified staff conducting administrative work under the Regional Stay at Home Order?

    Yes, school and district offices may remain open for essential services. However, the telework option should be used for functions that can be performed remotely. 

  • While in the State’s Tier 1 (Purple), can we continue to have limited staff on campus?

    Yes, staff can be on campus for activities that are fundamental for keeping the school operating. These staff members may be indoors or outdoors. Staff should continue to wear masks and practice physical distancing.

Guidance and Reopening Plans

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  • What guidance documents for school reopening should we follow?

    It is recommended that schools consult the CDPH Industry Guidance, SDCOE recommendations, and the local Public Health Order when creating reopening plans. The California Department of Education’s Stronger Together should be used for implementation strategies.

  • Do schools need to submit their reopening plans to the County or SDCOE

    Schools do not need to submit their reopening plans to the County Health and Human Services Agency or San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE), but you may request that your plans be reviewed by those parties. School reopening plans must be easily accessible for viewing on the school’s website. 

  • Are there repercussions for schools/districts that do not follow the guidance set by CDPH & CDC?

    Failure to comply with the County Public Health Order and guidance from CDPH and the CDC increases the risk of outbreaks within the school and the community, which could lead to schools and/or districts having to close. A school that fails to follow guidance from the CDPH and CDC would be considered noncompliant with the County Public Health Order. The school would receive education regarding their failure to comply. If noncompliance continues, repercussions could elevate to a citation with a fine or an order to close, which also may include a fine. If a site refuses to close, each day results in an additional citation with fees up to $1000 (per citation). 

  • How does the Yavneh-Stipulated order Impact San Diego County Schools?
    • The Yavneh stipulated settlement merely confirmed the state’s Cohort Guidance and Places of Worship Guidance are applicable to private schools. 
    • The settlement agreement restated that the Cohort Guidance does not put a cap on the number of cohorts at a given school, public or private. 
    • The settlement also confirms that religious schools may follow the Places of Worship Guidance for in-person religious services and cultural ceremonies.
    • Finally, it confirms that a county, when acting under its own authority, can choose to be more restrictive than state guidance.
  • Do current Reopening Plans (following K-12 Industry Guidance) meet the criteria of the Cal-OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Program Requirements or do schools need to create a separate document?

    Current COVID-19 Reopening Plans likely fall short of the Cal-OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Program Requirements in a few areas, including "exposed workplaces" and "increased testing in response to an exposed workplace." The COVID-19 Reopening/Prevention Plans need to be updated to ensure they align with Cal-OSHA. A new template will be sent out when available. For Cal-OSHA Emergency Regulations on COVID-19 and links to FAQ and templates, visit here. For a sample Prevention Plan document, visit here.

Cases and School Closures

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Screening and Testing

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Shared Items

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Physical Distancing

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School Operations and Learning Environment

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Local and International Travel

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School-Based Programs

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Cleaning and Hygiene II

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  • Where are the best locations for hand sanitizers?

    It is recommended that schools provide hand washing stations or hand sanitizer around restrooms, eating areas, classroom entrances and other high touch frequency areas. Sanitizing stations should be located 6 feet apart from one another to maintain physical distancing.

    Students and staff should use fragrance-free hand sanitizer when handwashing is not practicable. Sanitizer must be rubbed into hands until completely dry. Note: frequent handwashing is more effective than the use of hand sanitizers.

    Ethyl alcohol-based hand sanitizers are preferred and should be used when there is the potential of unsupervised use by children.

    Isopropyl hand sanitizers are more toxic when ingested or absorbed in skin.

    Do not use hand sanitizers that may contain methanol which can be hazardous when ingested or absorbed.

    Children under age 9 should only use hand sanitizer under adult supervision. Call Poison Control if consumed: 1-800-222-1222.

  • Can students use sanitation wipes to clean their desks?

    Under the California Healthy Schools Act (HSA), disinfectants are considered to be pesticides so their application in schools is regulated by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR). San Diego County Office of Education recommended limiting classroom staff to using soap and water because of the application of disinfectants requires special training and precautions. Students can clean with soap and water, but not with disinfectants.
    Almost all disinfecting products carry a "Keep Out of Reach of Children" warning and an EPA registration number or pesticidal claim that would require HSA training for use in schools. The COVID-19 INDUSTRY GUIDANCE: Schools and School Based Programs (revised 7/17/2020) directs schools to choose disinfecting products from those “approved for use against COVID-19 on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)- approved list “N” and follow product instructions.” We’re not aware of any products on this list that can be used by children.
    One of the greatest challenges to using any disinfectant during the school day is “contact time.” The directions for each product include the length of time the product must remain in contact with the surface to be effective. The surface should remain wet throughout the contact time to ensure it is effective. In many cases this can be up to 10 minutes. Children shouldn’t be allowed to come into contact with wet disinfectants, employees must be trained to apply them, and the products must be secured out of the reach of children when not in use. The combination of these factors makes it very hard to use them safely in classrooms during the day.

Quarantine and Isolation

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PPE and Face Coverings

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School Activities

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  • Are there any updates on band & choir?

    The California Department of Public Health updated their School Guidance FAQs on October 14, 2020 to clarify that outdoor singing and band practice are permitted provided that precautions such as physical distancing and mask wearing are implemented to the maximum extent possible. Playing of wind instruments (any instrument played by the mouth, such as a trumpet or clarinet) is strongly discouraged. School officials, staff, parents, and students should be aware of the increased likelihood for transmission from exhaled droplets during singing and band practice, and physical distancing beyond 6 feet is strongly recommended for any of these activities.

  • Is there a COVID protocol for school emergency drills?

    It is recommended to incorporate all the same protocols as before, have students wear PPE, and have them exit the building as soon as possible. When congregating, try to make sure distance is maintained. 

  • Do we need approval for drive up distribution events?

    You do not need approval for a socially distanced drive up event. Please reference to the guidance on events. If an entity is holding an event, they should have a safety plan and make sure staff, volunteers and attendees understand how safety is to be maintained.

  • If bell covers on instruments are implemented and students wear masks while in a linear line, is it safe to practice band and wind instruments outside?

    There is some evidence that putting a bell cloth over an instrument can reduce aerosolization, but it is still possible for droplets to come out of the musician’s mouth. There is less potential spread if students are far apart and standing in a line, but CDPH still recommends against wind instruments, even in outdoor settings. 

  • Are after school programs allow to transport youth in a 15-passenger van?

    There is no prohibition to transporting youth in a van versus a bus but know that face coverings are required just as they are on a bus. Please review the guidance. The purpose for the van or bus is important, too. Field trips are not permissible at this time, so make sure that it is for essential travel. On a bus, windows are supposed to be open, so make sure that the van has the same capabilities, too. If the van only has a roof that can be opened, that is not adequate ventilation. 

  • Are there any updates on youth sports?

    On December 14th the CDPH released Updated Sports Guidance. For San Diego County, given that we are under the Regional Stay at Home Order, the extent to which we can conduct youth and adult sporting activities is as follows:  

    • Physical conditioning, practice, skill-building, and training that can be conducted outdoors, with 6 feet of physical distancing, and within stable cohorts are authorized regardless of county tier status. Such activities may be conducted indoors consistent with restrictions by Tier in the Gym & Fitness Center Guidance Capacity.
    • In counties under the Regional Stay at Home Order, only activities consistent with the bullet immediately above are permitted, regardless of the county's tier status. 
  • Are drive-thru and drive-in events still allowed under the Regional Stay at Home order?

    Yes, drive-thru, drive-in, and reverse parade activities are still permitted. These activities still require a safe reopening plan that describes how they will follow all proper procedures.  

  • Are playgrounds at schools allowed to be open during the Regional Stay at Home Order?

    According to CDPH, playgrounds may remain open to facilitate physically distanced personal health and wellness through outdoor exercise. Playgrounds located on schools that remain open for in-person instruction, and not accessible by the general public, may remain open and must follow guidance for schools and school-based programs.

Air Filtration

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  • What are the recommendations for air filtration in classrooms?
    • Air flow and ventilation enhancements are recommended where practicable. 
      • Keep windows and doors open for cross ventilation. If this is not possible, make sure that Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems are operating to clear the air of small airborne particles.
    • The CDC has information about air filtration and ventilation, including considerations for operating schools during COVID-19, and indoor environmental quality.
    • Have a Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) specialist review your school’s system so that particulate matter (2.5 microns) is in acceptable range. This may include
      • Changing ventilation settings so that "air changes per hour" is set to a minimum of 5 changes per hour and/or
      • Use of MERV 13 filters if your HVAC system has the capacity for these filters or placement of one or more HEPA filter/air purifiers per room to filter the air of small particles.
    • Turn off classroom ceiling fans, and do not use desk or floor fans.
      • Even if a classroom has air filters, fans should only be used to exhaust room air out a window. Fans that merely circulate the air in a closed space are not recommended.
    • Use either carbon dioxide monitors or particle counters (2.5 microns) to measure the quality of the classroom's ventilation when it is occupied. If your system has MERV 13 filters or HEPA room air purifiers, then use particle counters, as carbon dioxide monitors are no longer a good proxy for the quality of the air, in terms of COVID-19. 
  • What is the guidance for central heaters and space heaters?

    There is neither evidence of, nor any reason to believe that portable space heaters directly create any increased risk of COVID19. ASHRAE recommends that you continue to keep occupied spaces heated to normal levels, because spending time under thermal stress such as excessively cold spaces can lower resistance to infection. There are, however, other issues to consider when selecting and operating a space heater. Be aware that unvented combustion space heaters (e.g. using kerosene, propane, natural gas, etc.) release products of combustion into the indoor air. Without adequate ventilation, these contaminants can build up to unacceptable or even hazardous levels. Unvented combustion emits NO2 which is a reactive oxygen species (i.e. a known breathing irritant,) and could increase susceptibility to respiratory infections, such as COVID-19. Unvented combustion-based heaters are banned in some jurisdictions. Electric space heaters do not pose those risks, but the placement of any portable heater requires some thought and care, to avoid overheating any nearby materials. See the resources from ASHRAE here.

  • We have purchased air purifiers for use in our classrooms. The purifiers are more effective with doors/windows closed but health guidance suggests we keep doors/windows open. Is there any guidance as to whether doors/windows should still stay open if air purifiers are in use in classrooms?

    In-room/portable air cleaners should be used in rooms where adequate ventilation with outdoor air cannot be maintained. Purifiers work better when the fan is constantly running. Their noise may affect where they are placed in the classroom. EPA’s Technical Summary of Residential Air Cleaners states on page 37 that “the air cleaner should not be situated where walls, furniture, curtains, and other obstructions will block the intake and outlet. Manufacturer instructions may indicate that the air cleaner be placed a certain distance from any objects that might obstruct airflow. Additionally, a portable air cleaner will be much more effective for a specific room when any exterior doors and windows in a room are closed.” if you are concerned about your air filtration system, keep windows open. You can also test the air quality with a particle counter. 

Virus Transmission

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  • Could someone still be able to spread the virus after the isolation period?

    The guidance has changed from a test-based to time-and-symptom-based guidance. A diagnosed or symptomatic person needs to be isolated for 10 days (unless someone is severely ill or immunosuppressed and then it is 20 days). Close contacts, who may be asymptomatic, must be quarantined for 14 days and it doesn't matter if someone gets a negative test. The virus’ ability to spread plummets after 10 days in those with mild-moderate illness and after 20 days for those with severe illness and/or immunosuppression. So even if some virus is present, there is a low risk for spread. In most cases, isolating for 10 days and ensuring that 24 hours have passed without a fever are sufficient for ending the isolation period. 

  • Is there strong evidence that school-age children can transmit the virus to adults?

    There is increasing evidence that adolescents could spread the virus even if they are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms (CDC MMR). In a recent MMWR article that looked at household contacts in Utah and another state, the proportion of spread due to children was similar to that of adults. Particularly 10-12-year-olds and beyond are most similar to adults, while younger children seem to have less (but not zero) ability to spread the virus.

  • If someone received a positive COVID-19 test, when did their contagious period begin?

    If symptomatic, the contagious period would have begun 2 days prior to symptoms starting; if asymptomatic. When identifying contacts of an asymptomatic individual with a positive test, case investigators typically consider close contacts at highest risk if they had been exposed within 2 days prior to the positive test result.


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Distance Learning 

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For Parents

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  • What should I be telling my children about COVID-19?

    CDC has a one-sheet on speaking to children about COVID-19. Be calm and reassuring.  Make yourself available to listen. Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma. Take breaks from news or social media. Provide information that is honest and accurate and appropriate for the age of the child. Address any rumors or misinformation they child brings up. It’s important to teach children about the importance of proper hand washing and to cover their coughs and sneezes.

    CDC One pager

    San Diego County Office of Education: Reassurance, Routines, and Regulation. Link here

    CDC FAQs

    My Hero is You, Storybook for Children on COVID-19


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Mental Health

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Physical Activity

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School Meals

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  • Is there a timeline for when educators will receive the vaccine?

     There is no date in terms of when educators will be eligible for the vaccine, but we know the order in which individuals will receive the vaccine. Phase 1a is all hospital staff, clinic staff, and assisted living staff and residents. Phase 1b would be for "essential workers," which includes teachers and school staff.


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