Clovis · Education · Highlight

Envelope pushed: Data in-hand, Clovis Unified secures reopening of Fresno Co. schools

Feb. 3, 2021, 8 p.m. – Hours after Clovis Unified released its data dashboard covering coronavirus spread among students, staff, and faculty, the Fresno County Department of Public Health ended its demurrer on allowing schools to continue reopening.

In a letter sent to Dr. Eimear O’Farrell on Wednesday night, public health officials reported that “based on current Fresno County case rates, testing positivity, and health care system capacity, if a school is implementing a phased reopening, the school sites may resume their phased reopening for grades K-6 only on Feb. 8”

For Clovis Unified, which is observing the Lincoln’s Birthday holiday on Feb. 8, will expand its reopening on Feb. 9.

O’Farrell, during Wednesday night’s school board meeting, noted that the district would seek further clarification regarding 7-12th grade students.

The Superintendent, who has led arguably the toughest push on reopening among California school districts, didn’t hesitate to reflect on the moment and the work that led to Fresno County backing down from its staunch position.

“I know that districts across the county have worked hard, but I don’t believe there’s a team that has worked any harder than the Clovis Unified administration,” O’Farrell said. “And if you ask [County Superintendent of Schools] Jim Yovino, I think he’d probably agree that we have pushed the envelope at every step of the way. So I’m so proud and very happy to be able to make that announcement.”

Feb. 3, 2021, 1:32 p.m. – Following months of the “show me the data” drumbeat, Clovis Unified School District is – in the words of Gov. Gavin Newsom – meeting the moment.

Wednesday, school district officials released a data dashboard laying out coronavirus case counts across its 34 elementary schools, five high schools, five middle schools, specialty schools, and district operation sites.

The district broke down – by school campus or district facility – the number of coronavirus cases afflicting staff, teachers, and students dating back to December.

In sum, the district reported a 1.6 percent positivity rate across all individuals that report to one district facility.

Or, in other words, 203 coronavirus cases against 15,423 students, staff, and faculty members.

Of those 203 December coronavirus cases, 119 came from elementary schools – which also represents the highest concentration of students who returned to campus during the Fall semester.

The elementary school positivity rate in December, it should be noted, was 0.97 percent of the total population of 12,220 students, staff, and teachers operating on 34 different campuses.

Steep declines in January

Though Clovis Unified was unable to return more students to classrooms after returning from the holiday break in January – by order of Fresno County public health officials – those that were attending in-person classes were able to continue in-person instruction at their schools.

The results of January coronavirus data from the school district? A steep decline in the number of cases.

The district as a whole saw its positivity rate drop by more than half: from 1.6 percent in December to 0.72 percent in January.

Again, the leading cohort of coronavirus cases emerged in elementary schools, where a mere 50 of 12,220 individuals tested positive for coronavirus.

Data darkness from Fresno County

Suffice it to say, there’s no apples-to-apples comparison in Fresno County, as most school districts outright refused to send kids back to school to kick off the 2020 school year or are so small that engaging in wholesale contact tracing and data compilation is impractical and costly.

The closest comparable school district to Clovis, Fresno Unified, has yet to bring students back on campus and is holding for Fresno County to return to the second Orange tier under Newsom’s reopening plan.

It also hasn’t compiled any specific data on outbreaks amongst its students and teachers operating via Zoom and Google Classroom.

Meanwhile, Fresno County’s Department of Public Health suspended public reporting of its internal data of coronavirus cases and deaths, via an online data dashboard, in late December.

It is in the midst of a multi-week rebuild.

An underlying Face-off with public health officials

Beyond sheer transparency, the release of detailed statistics of coronavirus transmission within the Clovis Unified ecosystem has another purpose: pushing back on Fresno County Public Health officials who have resisted to expand reopening of schools.

Since January, Clovis Unified has grown considerably frustrated over stalling by local health officials in approving reopening schools despite consistently negligible transmission figures.

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.