Some OC Catholic schools preparing for return to in-person learning

St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Huntington Beach is preparing for students and staff to return to campus next month.
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Huntington Beach is preparing for students and staff to return to campus next month now that the Diocese of Orange County plans to apply for a waiver for in-person learning.

Diocese officials say they are confident each school can meet the required safety guidelines.

"The health and safety of the children and our staff is really just a paramount importance - and I say that not only in terms of keeping them physically healthy and safe, but our Catholic schools have always focused on the whole child," said Superintendent of Schools Erin Barisano.

If the waiver is approved, Barisano says 34 elementary schools in the diocese will reopen Sept. 8.

"One of the differences obviously will be masks. Face coverings for teachers, for staff, for students just as the governor has told us from third grade on up," she said.

Desks will be six feet apart and some schools will utilize plexiglass.

At St. Bonaventure, automatic hand sanitizer dispensers will be installed, the drinking fountains have been transformed into hand-washing stations and a donor helped the school purchase technology to include students who are learning from home.

"The swivel robot tracks the teacher who has a microphone and a device and via Zoom technology, the teacher can talk back and forth with the students in the classroom and at home," said St. Bonaventure Principal Kim White.

They also say they're doing everything they can to make teachers feel safe.

"We can't guarantee that no one will ever run across COVID, but we can teach them the best practices to mitigate the exposure of COVID in a COVID-era classroom," said White.

St. Bonaventure says 85% of parents have chosen on-campus learning, with a waiting list for all grades right now - interest the diocese has seen across the county.

"The benefit of children being back in school really outweighs some of those risks. We're never going to have a risk-free environment, even in a healthy situation," Barisano said. "In difficult times, I think that's when people really gravitate towards needing that anchor and the values and the faith."

The waiver does not allow for middle and high school students to return to campus, so those students in the diocese will do distance learning, whether the waiver is approved or not. Data from the Orange County Health Care Agency shows more than 80 schools or districts have requested waivers so far.
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