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Recent data from the Department of Education indicates that many parents are opting not to return their children to school for fear of contracting COVID-19. Returning to school has taken on new meaning and a new set of worries for parents and other caregivers. Schools must now balance the educational, social and emotional needs of their students along with the health and safety of students and staff in the midst of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision on what school and learning looks like is usually made on the local level by school boards and government officials. Being prepared for a variety of schooling environments can empower you and your child and reduce anxiety. In each case, there are steps you can take to reduce the risks of COVID-19, help your child feel safe and make informed decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Get vaccinated

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorization for children ages 12 through 15.

Research has shown that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is 100 percent effective in preventing the COVID-19 virus in children ages 12 through 15. Previous research has shown that the vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing the COVID-19 virus with symptoms in people age 16 and older.

After being fully vaccinated, your child can return to doing many of the things that he or she might not have been able to do because of the pandemic.

Your child is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

In the U.S., your child also won’t need to quarantine or get a COVID-19 test after a known exposure if he or she doesn’t have symptoms, with some exceptions for specific settings.

Practice safe distancing

Social distancing, or physical distancing, is the practice of allowing enough space between individuals to reduce the spread of disease. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) recommend keeping at least six feet (2 meters) of space between yourself and people outside your household to meet these goals.

But that might not be practical in some schools or with younger children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says following strict physical distancing can conflict with ideal academic, social and emotional learning standards. It’s also not clear how easily COVID-19 spreads among children. In the short term, parents must weigh the risks and benefits of allowing interaction between their children and their friends.

Wear a mask

The CDC and WHO recommend wearing face mask in indoor public spaces and outdoors where there is a high risk of COVID-19 transmission, such as at a crowded event, and schools are no exception. This advice is based on data showing that people with COVID-19 can transmit the virus before realizing that they have it.

If your child’s school requires or encourages the use of cloth face masks, consider these tips:

• Wearing cloth face masks should be a priority especially when it’s hard to maintain social distance, such as on the bus, at carpool drop-off or pickup, and when entering the building.

• Have multiple cloth face masks available for your child. Provide your child with a clean mask and back-up mask each day and a clean, resealable bag for them to store the mask when they can’t wear it, such as at lunch.

• Label your child’s mask clearly so it’s not confused with another child’s.

• Instruct your child to never share or trade masks with others.

• Talk to your child about the importance of wearing a face mask and model wearing them as a family.

• Discuss with your child why some people may not be able to wear face masks for medical reasons.

Keep hands clean

Schools are encouraging frequent hand-washing and following good hand hygiene practices, such as asking children to cover their mouths and noses with their elbows or tissues when they cough or sneeze and then washing their hands.

If your child attends in-person schooling, develop daily routines before and after school that foster healthy habits, such as packing a back-up face mask and hand sanitizer in the morning and washing their hands as soon as they come home.

Southern California Gas Co. announces Aliso settlement

nWill pay up to $1.8 billion

By City News Service

After nearly six years of litigation, Southern California Gas Co. and its parent company, Sempra Energy, will pay up to $1.8 billion to settle the claims of more than 35,000 victims of the 2015 Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility blowout near Porter Ranch, attorneys for the plaintiffs announced this week.

The plaintiffs in the Los Angeles Superior Court litigation alleged they suffered personal injury and property damage after one of SoCalGas’ natural gas storage wells failed and uncontrollably released nearly 100,000 tons of methane and other substances into the atmosphere over 118 days. The Aliso Canyon blowout remains the biggest natural gas leak in U.S. History.

Sempra and SoCalGas have denied wrongdoing. Subject to certain conditions, the settlement money will be allocated among the plaintiffs in accordance with a protocol developed by neutral, independent allocators, attorneys said.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys from multiple law firms released a statement regarding the settlement.

“Our goal has always been obtaining justice for the men, women and children who were failed by SoCalGas throughout every turn of this catastrophe,” the statement read. “This settlement, and the numerous discovery sanctions imposed by the court, hold Sempra and SoCalGas accountable for the Aliso Canyon blowout and their repeated misconduct throughout this litigation.”

During the litigation, SoCalGas, Sempra Energy and their lawyers from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP were sanctioned over $5.7 million, one of the largest discovery sanctions in California history, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

In September 2016, SoCalGas pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of failing to immediately report the gas leak, which began Oct. 23, 2015, and wasn’t capped until mid-February 2016. Three other misdemeanor charges—one count of discharging air contaminants and two more counts of failing to report the release of hazardous materials—were dismissed as part of the deal.

Under its $4 million settlement agreement with prosecutors, SoCalGas was required to install and maintain an infrared methane monitoring system at the Aliso Canyon site—estimated to cost between $1.2 million and $1.5 million—and to retain an outside company to test and certify that the monitoring system and real-time pressure monitors to be placed at each gas well are working properly.