A private valley religious school is gearing up to bring its students back into the classroom in a few weeks, defying state and county guidance.
Desert Christian Academy in Bermuda Dunes plans to teach its hundreds of students in person starting Sept. 2. School leaders said being in the classroom is always a matter of life or death – and just like school shootings, coronavirus is something they have to prepare for and mitigate.
"It could be a lost year of learning and that’s not a compromise that we’re willing to take," said Kirk Scott, co-head of school.
Scott said the guidance on back-to-school from federal, state and local authorities has been mixed and confusing.
Studying scriptures and praying, he sought direction from his highest authority: God.
"He spoke to us very clearly through the books of Ezra, Haggai and Zechariah that we were to reopen our campus for in-person instruction," Scott said.
To forego distance learning, the state requires schools to apply for a waiver. But Riverside County currently doesn't meet the state threshold to accept applications for the waivers. Still, Scott plans on reopening school in September anyway.
He said it will be a mix of in-person and virtual learning. Just half the students will be on campus at a time. Third graders and up will be required to wear masks.
In a survey of all Desert Christian Academy families, Scott said 90 percent pushed for on-campus learning.
"Our families work and they need a safe place where they can trust their children," Scott said. "And they don't have time or the ability or the resources to do the education."
But what happens if a student tests positive?
"We would be fools not to prepare for that reality," Scott said. "Our prayer and our hope and our goal is that we can keep Covid off our campus."
He said the school is prepared with contact tracing processes and quarantine procedures, and they'll handle infections on a case-by-case basis.
"There’s always the possibility of tragic results, and we trust the Lord with the outcome of whatever it is that he leads us into," Scott said.
The county said enforcement of the waiver policy and procedure is up to the state. Once county officials become aware of a school in violation, they'll send it to a state team for review.