Newsom announces plan to encourage schools to resume in-person learning as soon as February

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $2 billion proposal on Wednesday, Dec. 30, to encourage school districts to bring back elementary school students as soon as mid-February.

The plan would use funds from the state’s 2021-22 budget to support schools that reopen their campuses in February and March. Newsom will likely reveal the full budget proposal next week.

“In-person instruction,” Newsom said in a Wednesday morning briefing, “we believe, and we’ve said this for months and months and months — it’s our default.”

The plan, however, includes a significant exception that could impact the ability for school districts across Southern California to take advantage: Counties must have a seven-day average of fewer than 28 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people.

As of Tuesday, Los Angeles County had 132.7 cases per 100,000 people, while Orange County had 98.5. Riverside County had 140.5 cases per 100,000 people, and San Bernardino County had 165.5.

Newsom emphasized the plan would use a phased-in approach, prioritizing the students that benefit most from in-person instruction. So as early as February, schools would be encouraged to bring transitional kindergarten through sixth grade students, as well as students with special needs, back to campus.

The state would then support schools in the hope of allowing all other students, Newsom said, to return to campus by early spring.

The plan includes four aspects: funding to support safe reopenings, safety and mitigation measures for classrooms, hands-on oversight and assistance for schools, and transparency and accountability for families and school staff.

“The point of emphasis here is that safety is key,” Newsom said. “Just reopening a school for in-person instruction on its own is not going to address the issue of safety. We have to focus on these mitigation steps. We have to focus on accountability. We have to focus on issues associated with being much more transparent.”

The announcement came two months after the superintendents of the Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Ana, San Diego, Fresno, Oakland and Sacramento unified school districts sent a letter to Newsom, urging him and the and the state legislature to adopt a set of statewide reopening standards and to provide funding to ensure schools have the means to resume in-person classes safely.

The letter called for a “common standard” for all districts to reopen their campuses, which would include:

  • Health and safety protocols, such as mandatory daily health and temperature checks and personal protective equipment;
  • COVID-19 testing and community contact tracing efforts;
  • The ability to provide adequate instruction, student supervision and transportation; and
  • Protections for employees who may not be able to return to school because of a health issue or because they are caring for someone at home.

“The undersigned superintendents have agreed that a Common Standard is needed to serve as a blueprint for schools to safely reopen and remain open,” the Nov. 2 letter said. “Our ability to implement a Common Standard, however, is dependent upon the necessary funding and participation by federal, state, and local governments and health authorities.”

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