Most California Schools Won’t Open With New Coronavirus Rules

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Most California public school campuses will not reopen when the academic year begins under state rules to be announced Friday by Governor Gavin Newsom, instead turning to full-time distance education in response to the summer outbreak of coronavirus cases.Education officials informed of the plan said schools will remain closed in 32 counties on the state’s COVID-19 watchlist, a mandate confirmed by Newsom administration shortly before the governor did his announcement. Public health conditions in these counties led state officials last week to demand the closure of various establishments, including gymnasiums, shopping malls, hair and nail salons and places of worship. Counties are home to 35.5 million Californians.

In schools that can open, state officials will require that all staff and students in grades 3 to 12 wear masks. Younger students will be encouraged to wear masks and school officials said they have been told they can ask students who do not want or cannot comply with distance learning.

The new guidelines represent the most ambitious effort by the state government to direct the operations of more than 10,500 schools across California during the pandemic. But for no less than a quarter of the 6 million schoolchildren in the state, the mandate only reinforces the plans already announced by the local authorities.

On Monday, leaders from the Los Angeles Unified School District and the San Diego Unified School District announced distance education for all returning students for the coming year. Other large districts in southern California, San Francisco Bay, and Sacramento have also voluntarily given up classroom learning due to current health conditions.

While the practical effect of the Newsom administration’s new mandate is simple, some details of the policy are complex. Schools in counties monitored for spread of coronavirus could not reopen until those counties have seen at least 14 consecutive days of declining coronavirus cases and are therefore removed from the state’s watch list, said officials.

The threshold for closing additional schools depends on COVID-19 tests. If a teacher or student in a classroom achieves positive results, the state will propose that the class be sent home for self-quarantine. If multiple classrooms are closed, the state will ask school officials to work with local public health agencies and consider closing the campus. School districts will be asked to close all campuses if 25% of their locations have enough cases of coronavirus to warrant a shutdown.

Some education officials informed of the proposal have questioned whether it is realistic to impose test-dependent rules when many communities are already facing a shortage of test kits.

Newsom’s decision to impose a strict state-wide standard comes four days after it suggested that the state had already provided schools with many directions – a position that even some of its long-standing allies The suggested date would put students, teachers and school employees at risk while leaving parents and families unsure what would happen and when.

Last week, the powerful California Teachers Assn. wrote to Newsom to say that many schools could not reopen safely under current conditions, including the lack of adequate coronavirus testing and personal protective equipment.

Low-income communities, many of which disproportionately include black and Latino students, continue to face major distance education challenges that local and national education officials must address, advocates said. communities.

“Things are more difficult than they were on March 16 for our communities … with the continued economic impact of the pandemic and the increase in spread,” said Maria Brenes, Executive Director of the Community of East LA hosting a nonprofit InnerCity Struggle, and a unified LA Parent.

“We are talking about the basics, the frontline workers who keep our economy going and it is their children and we are doing them a grave injustice,” she said, noting that there were still students without access. to devices, to a reliable Internet. service or a quiet space to study.

Students with disabilities also face challenges with distance education, said Elmer Roldan, executive director of nonprofit communities in Los Angeles schools, which provides support and case management to approximately 1,000 families from Los Angeles. Schools must commit to providing services to students with special needs through distance education and must meet the existing needs of families who are disadvantaged by home schooling, such as those whose parents speak a different language.

“What are we doing to resolve connectivity issues? Whether it’s students with a working device or internet or having space where they can do their homework? And then what happens when a student needs support that a parent is unable to provide because a parent may need to work or the parent may be unable to understand the lessons that students are learning? Said Roldan.

It is unclear whether school districts will be able to fully cover the costs of expanded distance education – largely related to the technology required for students with limited or no access to computers and wide-area services bandaged -. The state budget signed by Newsom last month spends $ 5.3 billion on school needs related to the pandemic, most of which came from the federal emergency plan adopted in the spring. More than half of the money will be allocated to schools based on the number of children learning English or coming from low-income families.

However, kindergarten to grade 12 schools will see their resources stretched over the next year. The state budget allocates the payment of some $ 13 billion in school financing obligations, to be covered in the short term by local cash reserves or by school districts borrowing money. Districts have also expressed concern over the language included in the final budget, which appears to require some level of in-person education, although lawmakers then insisted that this would not prevent public health requirements from completely shutting down services. campus.

Before Friday’s announcement, the new school year seemed to start roughly like the last one had ended – local officials making their own decisions, on their own schedule, on how to respond to the coronavirus crisis. Despite state-wide calls for action, Newsom and public education officials have avoided a general policy dictating when to close schools as the virus spread throughout the state at first of spring.

The governor, who has four young children, chose instead to approach the issue as a parent, telling reporters in mid-March that he had told his daughter that the schools would probably not reopen at the time – framing the comment as a reality check, not a directive from his office.

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