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 The 26 Catholic schools of the Diocese began the 2020-21 academic year in distance learning mode, in compliance with state directives and the health and safety guidelines for San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

 Under the leadership of the Diocesan Office of Catholic Schools, the campuses have embraced Catholic Online Synchronous Learning (COSL), which emphasizes daily, real-time instruction through technology, and reinforcement of the Catholic identity of the students, families and school staffs during the difficult time of pandemic.

 Pre-Schools in the Diocese, most of which are part of a K-8 Catholic school, were permitted to receive children on campus beginning Oct. 1. This was allowed under state provisions that pre-schools serve as daycare options for working parents, and it was also deemed safe by Catholic school officials because there are far fewer students to socially distance.

 In the early summer months, the Catholic schools had hoped to be able to open the year with on-campus instruction, using social distancing and health and safety precautions. They submitted plans to do so to both the San Bernardino and Riverside county health departments and were approved. Then in mid-July, with a significant spike in COVID-19 cases hitting California, Governor Gavin Newsome declared that schools in the most impacted counties would be prohibited from holding on-campus instruction to start the year.

 A July 31 letter to Catholic school families from Bishop Gerald Barnes and Catholic Schools Superintendent Dr. Sam Torres made clear that the decision to begin the year online wasn’t driven just by state and county regulations.

 “The decision-making process for our Catholic schools, and for the entire Diocese, in response to this pandemic must be guided first by our reverence for human life,” the letter read. “With that in mind, the gathering of our students, teachers and school staff members together on campus simply poses too great a threat to the health and safety of our school communities – including your family homes.”

 Following the July state orders, counties that were experiencing a decline in COVID-19 cases were eligible to apply for a waiver to open kindergarten through fifth grade. In a September letter to school families, Dr. Torres wrote that the Catholic schools under diocesan jurisdiction would remain online only.

 “At this time of widespread rise and risk, the Diocese will not be submitting waivers to the State of California for reopening,” he wrote.

 The COVID-19 pandemic has had a crippling effect on Catholic schools nationwide. Rising unemployment that has diminished household income and required distance learning instead of on campus instruction has led to a more than 30 percent enrollment decline, nationwide, and many schools have been forced to close. The Diocese of San Bernardino has fared better, reporting an enrollment drop of 13 percent and no school closures.