SACRAMENTO, CA — Gov. Gavin Newsom laid out specific criteria Friday for the reopening of schools in California. The bottom line: Most schools will begin the school year with distance learning. In order for a school district to open for in-class instruction, it must be in a county that has been off the state monitoring list for 14 consecutive days. Currently, 32 of the state’s 58 counties are on the monitoring list.
Newsom announced the guidelines during a news conference streamed online from Sacramento. All 6.15 million school age children in California will be governed by the guidelines, whether they attend public or private schools. The governor hinted that universities will follow the guidelines as well, once a new president is installed at the California State University System.
The governor pointed out that California’s newly signed budget includes $5.3 billion additional funding to ensure quality education.
The second item on the reopening list is the use of masks. The state is mandating masks for students in third grade and above. Masks are recommended for second and lower but not required.
The physical distancing requirements for schools are the same as for the rest of California — six feet. That includes distance between desks, and distance between teachers and students.
Testing for coronavirus will be rigorous. It includes daily temperature checks, and a requirement to test staff regularly. At the outset of his new conference, the governor emphasized the importance of all staff members, from teachers to office workers to custodial staff. Contract tracers with rigorous training from UCLA and UCSF will be made available to schools.
Once a school district reopens, there is no guarantee that it will remain open. Individual classrooms may be sent home and schools may be required to close when an outbreak is detected. If enough schools in a district are impacted, the entire district will be required to close.
One of the most divisive arguments raging around the surge in coronavirus cases in California, and across the United States, has been what to do about the start of the new school year. Should children attend school in the classroom, online or a via hybrid of the two?
School districts up and down the Golden State have painstakingly drawn and redrawn plans this summer, with school start dates looming next month. Educators said they have to consider the children first — are they successfully learning online, is there enough technology for all students, how are children protected from COVID-19 in the classroom, and how can districts emphasize that special education students are not getting lost in the turmoil?
Teachers are also a major consideration — do they have the training and tools for distance learning, and should they be forced to return to the classroom if they have pre-existing health conditions that make them vulnerable to the coronavirus, or if they are family caregivers?
A point that has nothing to do with education, yet greatly impacts families, is the need for children to return to the classroom in order for some parents to return to the workforce.
The American Academy of Pediatrics said earlier this month that children belong in the classroom. In a joint statement with several education associations, it said, “We recognize that children learn best when physically present in the classroom. But children get much more than academics at school. They also learn social and emotional skills at school, get healthy meals and exercise, mental health support and other services that cannot be easily replicated online.”
But the pediatrics group also said that reopening plans should be based on science and should be made at the local level: “For instance, schools in areas with high levels of COVID-19 community spread should not be compelled to reopen against the judgment of local experts. A one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for return-to-school decisions.”
On Friday, Newsom imposed a one-size-fits-all approach on California schools. And the science behind the decision:
364,835 confirmed cases of coronavirus in California
7,490 coronavirus deaths in California
Of the state’s confirmed cases, Los Angeles County alone has nearly 150,000 cases.
Against this backdrop, a determination must be made about children returning to school. For now, at least, the decision has been made, and everyone involved can focus on implementing the plan.
Further recommendations about returning to school are to be made as the situation regarding the pandemic unfolds.
Read the full statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA) and AASA, and the School Superintendents Association.
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This article originally appeared on the Across California Patch