On Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced updated state rules for schools reopening this fall in the state, including the directive that both public and private schools in counties currently on the California COVID-19 watch list cannot hold in-class instruction.
Counties in line to get off the watch list will have to meet several rules for schools in those counties to reopen. A county will have to remain off the state’s watch list for at least 14 days in a row before in-class instruction is allowed again to make sure that there is no relapse in COVID-19 cases there.
Newsom committed to having as many schools as possible to have in-class instruction during the press conference while also stressing safety for all those going to school this fall.
“Our default is in-person, but we have to do it in a safe way,” said the Governor. “Safety is foundational. And safety is determined by health data.”
Reopening, Remote learning
Governor Newsom also noted the new requirements for schools to reopen, as well as what districts will need remotely and how schools will be monitored for relapse.
Reopening schools will have mandatory masks for all school staff and students between grades 3 and 12. Younger students are highly advised to wear masks as well. Staff will have to keep six feet away from others at all time, with students being instructed to whenever possible. Schools will also institute hand-washing endeavors, temperature checks, and formulate quarantine protocols in case someone exhibits COVID-like symptoms.
Schools that start the year with remote learning must supply devices to all students who don’t have such items so that they can attend class. All remote learning must also be “challenging and equivalent to in-person instruction” with daily live sessions. Special education and those learning English will have special classes to ensure they learn in-line with other students as well.
Schools will have to return to remote learning when there are multiple cases, or if 5% of the school becomes positive for the virus. And while individual classes can go home for the day when there is a confirmed case in the class, entire districts will have to resume remote learning if 25% of their schools are closed with 2 weeks.
“The virus will be with us for a year or more, and school districts must provide meaningful instruction in the midst of this pandemic,” Governor Newsom said on Friday. “In California, health data will determine when a school can be physically open, and when it must close, but learning should never stop. Students, staff, and parents all prefer in-classroom instruction, but only if it can be done safely.
We have 6.51-million students and 625,000 adults who support schools statewide at risk.”
32 counties are due to start the year on the watch list, and thus, remotely. This includes the largest school districts in the state, including Los Angeles and San Diego. Newsom also confirmed that even if counties were taken off the watch list, school districts could still decide to keep up remote learning, as local COVID-19 rates could warrant it in some areas of an opened county.
Teachers largely approve of new rules
While some teachers unions are trying to politicize the reopenings and not reopen until some demands are met, most teachers tend to agree with the reopening plans.
“I personally thinks this works,” said Mary-Lynn Strauss, a fifth grade teacher at a private school in Los Angeles County, in a California Globe interview. “We’re making sure kids are getting the education they need and they’re letting us reopen at our own pace based on when we think it’s safe.
I would love to be teaching my class inside the school this year, because it is much better for students in-person, but we can’t risk lives over this, especially if they are still learning in a safe way.”
Other teachers agreed with Strauss.
“Even with constant sanitizer and washed hands, you can have dozens of people touch the same surface every day in a school,” Victor Narvaez, a computer class teacher at a public school in San Bruno, told the Globe. “In computer class alone you have people on keyboard, elbows on desks, sitting close by each others, and constant use of things like printers.”
“We need to be sure COVID-19 is on it’s way out and not here when we get back to class. And believe me, teachers want that, students want that, and parents especially want that. We just don’t want an outbreak or 8-year-olds on ventilators either.”
Newsom and the Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly both noted that they themselves had children and understood the importance of both safety and for children to have in-class instruction.
“Today’s announcement is very personal to me as a father of four,” said Newsom.
No projections on how many schools would be open by the winter and spring were given during the press conference on Friday, although officials have remarked that they would like to see more open as long as conditions were safe.