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These Fresno County Schools May Be The First to Open for Students



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Two small Sierra schools seeking to reopen for classes on campus might get their wish as early as next week, Fresno County interim health officer Dr. Rais Vohra said Friday.

“It looks like they (Big Creek and Hume Lake Charter) will be able to fall under that guidance. And so we don’t really see a reason why they wouldn’t be able to open it.”Fresno County interim health officer Dr. Rais Vohra

Big Creek Elementary and Hume Lake Charter School officials are asking to be excused from the July state mandate that ordered schools to stay closed in counties where coronavirus infection rates remain high.

The schools contend that their remote locations — Big Creek is southwest of Huntington Lake and Hume Lake Charter is between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks — and lack of COVID-19 cases should make them viable candidates for reopening.

Vohra noted that Fresno County as a whole is not close to the decreased number of cases set by the state for a waiver.

When asked at Friday’s media briefing whether Fresno County could follow the footsteps of San Bernardino County, Vohra said he was not familiar with the situation there but has been following the guidance of state public health officials.

San Bernardino’s public health department agreed to a waiver for an elementary school in a remote stretch of the upper Mojave Desert where there have been few COVID-19 cases.

How Soon?

But Vohra said that because of Big Creek’s and Hume Lake Charter’s small enrollments, remote locations, and lack of COVID-19 cases, “we feel like we are going to be able to allow them to open. So they will probably be the first set of schools that will be granted the go-ahead to open.”

“Our needs are very unique, and should be treated as such.” — Big Creek Superintendent Toby Wait

That could happen as early as next week, he said, but “it’s really more up to them than it’s up to us.”

It was unclear Friday whether the Fresno County Department of Public Health has submitted or plans to submit a waiver request to the California Department of Public Health. Under the state policy announced in July, waivers may be issued only for students in grades K-6.

During the media briefing, Vohra discussed the new state policy issued Tuesday by the state allowing small groups of no more than 14 students and two supervising adults to congregate on campus, but requiring that they remain separate from other small groups.

“It looks like they (Big Creek and Hume Lake Charter) will be able to fall under that guidance,” he said. “And so we don’t really see a reason why they wouldn’t be able to open it.”

Still Needs A Waiver

But Big Creek superintendent/principal Toby Wait told GV Wire℠ later Friday that the new state policy is not a solution for the school, because adults would be limited to supervising a single small group.

Big Creek would not have enough teachers available if the school has to follow that parameter, Wait said.

Under the plan that Big Creek submitted with its waiver request, students in the lower and upper elementary grades would be divided between morning and afternoon sessions, with the same teacher for each half day. That will limit class sizes to no more than 10 and would allow for sufficient spacing between students and their teacher in Big Creek classrooms, he said.

“Our needs are very unique, and should be treated as such,” Wait said.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email