A total of 47 Catholic schools in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties can offer some form of in-person instruction to students, despite COVID-19 restrictions that have caused most local schools to continue with distance learning.

Thirty-six schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles have been granted waivers from Los Angeles County to reopen their classrooms in the last month, according to the Department of Catholic Schools. The first, St. Maria Goretti in Long Beach, opened its doors Oct. 26. 

Waiver applications from several more Catholic schools in LA County are currently pending, according to Department of Catholic Schools Assistant Superintendent Ryan Halverson. Such waivers are required for schools to open in counties classified under California’s most restrictive “purple tier,” which most counties in the state are currently in. 

Additionally, six Catholic schools in Santa Barbara County and five in Ventura County were allowed to reopen during the time that both counties were upgraded to the state’s less restrictive “red tier” earlier this fall. Although a surge in COVID-19 cases has landed both counties back in the more restrictive purple tier, those school campuses have been allowed to remain open.   

“In those counties where our schools had already opened, they were allowed to stay open,” Halverson told Angelus. “Any school that now wants to open will have to re-engage in the waiver process.”

Because the Archdiocese of Los Angeles comprises three counties, each with its own set of guidelines, schools in each county have faced different hurdles to reopen. 

“Depending on the county, we have schools that have welcomed back students in grades TK-1 or TK-2 for in-person instruction, while others offer distance learning on-campus to accommodate student needs,” Halverson said. 

Meanwhile, all schools in Los Angeles County are allowed in certain cases to offer specialized, in-person instruction for small groups of “high need” students, as long as their number does not exceed 10% of the normal number of students. 

Halverson says that while reopened schools have inevitably experienced some COVID-19 cases, they have been primarily isolated to individual cases where transmission occurred off-campus. To reduce and mitigate risk of spread, the reopened schools are following stringent public health protocols, including masking, distancing, personal hygiene and campus cleaning.

The priority now, Halverson said, is that Catholic schools be able to offer “a range of learning options for families, including distance, hybrid (in-person and distance) and full in-person programs.”

For now, parents, teachers, and school administrators hope those options remain available until Southern California’s COVID-19 metrics turn the corner in the coming months. 

“We are looking forward to the distribution of a vaccine in early 2021, which will help accelerate the reopening of our schools and a return to full in-person instruction,” said Halverson.