Redwood City, CA–San Mateo County was formally placed on the State’s monitoring list as of Sunday, August 2, 2020, somewhat limiting the flexibility of local schools to pursue various in-person learning options to start the 2020-21 school year. A summary of the implications for schools follows.

  • Middle schools and high schools can only resume in-person learning once the county has been off the monitoring list for 14 consecutive days.
  • Elementary schools can open the school year with in-person learning, but only after applying for a waiver and being approved by San Mateo County Health, a process that helps ensure health and safety protocols are implemented.
  • Once the State releases the waiver process, San Mateo County Health will work in coordination with the San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE) to develop and implement procedures for local schools.
  • When the process is fully developed, SMCOE will share details with schools and post information on the SMCOE website.
  • Both public and private schools are subject to these restrictions.
  • Teachers and administrators are allowed to work on campus as they provide distance instruction and meet the specialized needs of students and schools.
  • Child care and preschool operations are not impacted by this order.
  • School campuses may remain open to serve the personalized needs of students, including instructional supports through one-on-one or small groups, access and support for digital devices, and distribution of school meals.
  • Also linked to the school reopening process is testing. Schools will need to develop a system for providing regular COVID-19 testing for staff who engage with students. SMCOE is working with county health officials to determine a variety of strategies for testing.
  • If a school has already opened for the 2020-21 school year, it is not required to close; however, it would need to implement a COVID-19 testing program for school staff.

SMCOE encourages elementary schools to explore the waiver option in order to get younger children on campus when school begins in the fall, or shortly thereafter. In-person instruction is particularly valuable to younger students whose early literacy and numeracy skills are paramount to long-term academic success. Maintaining the Four Pillars of school safety – health and hygiene, face coverings, physical distancing, and limiting gatherings – is also less complex in an elementary school where students can be arranged in smaller, stable cohorts.

According to San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee, “The COVID-19 virus poses real challenges to school safety, but by carefully and thoughtfully implementing the Four Pillars of safety and ensuring a system for contact tracing and testing, we can begin to serve some students in person while effectively controlling community spread. Through robust distance learning and in-person hybrid models, schools can continue to meet the needs of students, including those students with the most developmental and urgent learning needs.”

Even if students are not able to begin the year on campus, it is clear, as Governor Newsom said on Friday, July 27th, that “learning is non-negotiable.” Consistent with legislative action, San Mateo County schools are preparing to provide distance learning that will include daily live interaction with teachers and meaningful engagement with other students, as well as targeted supports and interventions for English learners and special education students. Schools have been preparing for this challenge, with many local teachers participating in SMCOE’s distance learning training program offered this summer in partnership with the San Mateo County Community College District.

SMCOE also recently released an updated version of its Pandemic Recovery Framework, which incorporates recent legislative and public health policy changes. The Framework provides schools with guidance on topics ranging from the Four Pillars for a safe return to school, to board policies, cleaning protocols, and curriculum and instruction. The Framework includes companion documents addressing key topics such as mental health and early learning and childcare. More information on the Framework, Four Pillars, and related resources can be found on the SMCOE website.


The San Mateo County Office of Education is committed to ensuring excellence and equity in education by inspiring students, investing in teachers, invigorating leaders, and involving communities.