Catholic schools are ‘no other safer place for students’


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SAN DIEGO — Months of planning, big changes to classrooms and outdoor spaces, and good old-fashioned “elbow grease” are paying off at Catholic schools in San Diego County, which returned to in-person instruction back in September.

Around 30 students and 15 staff members, out of a total population of 15,000 in 47 schools, have tested positive for COVID as of Nov. 19. Further, these individuals had not been infected on cam-pus, nor did they transmit the virus on campus, county health authorities had determined.

“There’s no safer place for a student than on a Catholic school campus,” said Matthew Cordes, who collects data related to the virus as associate director of the Office for Schools.

School staffs can’t take it easy, however. The number of cases began to climb in the region at the beginning of November, prompting the California health authorities to move San Diego County into the purple tier, the most restrictive in its system to reopen the state. Schools that had already opened for in-person instruction, however, were allowed to keep their doors open. Imperial County has been operating in the purple tier since the system was instituted.

“With the holidays coming up, we need families to remain vigilant of their responsibility to the other members of our school communities when it comes to gatherings and other private activities,” said Catholic Schools Director John Galvan. He added, “We have all done a great job so far, but sustained vigilance will be key.”

The Schools Office is developing a “dashboard” of current positive cases on its campuses and what action is being taken. The dashboard, which will be updated weekly, will be published in the days to come on its website,

Over the summer, principals and the school staff worked closely with state and county health authorities to develop pro-tocols to respond to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, which are all documented.

Principals consult with the Epidemiology Unit at the county’s Department of Health and Human Services to determine what steps should be taken based on the close contacts the person with a positive result had. Anyone with a positive test must quarantine for 14 days, as well any student or staff deemed to have had close contact with him or her.

The principals notify parents of these cases and what steps are being taken in their child’s class.

All Catholic schools in San Diego County have simultaneously offered in-person and online instruction since September. As a result, students having to quarantine can continue their learning seamlessly from home until they return to campus.

The entire school community has done a great job following the rules and practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Cordes said.

“Principals, in particular, have done an amazing job keeping everyone safe, from students to their families to staff members to nurses,” Cordes said.

In Imperial County, meanwhile, only one of the three Catholic schools has been able to reopen for in-person instruction. Sacred Heart School in Brawley completed a phased return to campus on Oct. 27.

The other two elementary schools in the Imperial Valley, as well as the lone high school, Vincent Memorial, plan to continue distance learning for the foreseeable future. They cannot reopen until COVID cases decline and the county leaves the highly restrictive purple tier.

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