Today, California Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a framework to expand in-person school instruction in early spring. Components of the plan will be launched in the weeks to come.
“As a father of four, I know firsthand what parents, educators and pediatricians continue to say: in-person is the best setting to meet not only the learning needs, but the mental health and social-emotional needs of our kids,” Newsom said.
The $2-billion Safe Schools for All plan is built on four pillars: funding to support safe reopening; safety and mitigation measures for classrooms; hands-on oversight and assistance for schools and transparency and accountability for families and staff. The effort will be led by Dr. Naomi Bardach, a University of California, San Francisco pediatrician and school safety expert.
“School is an essential service for millions of California children and their families, especially in lower-income communities where we are seeing higher rates of adverse health impacts tied to prolonged time away from the classroom,” Dr. Shannon Udovic-Constant said, who is the Chair of the California Medical Association Board of Trustees. “Getting schools reopened quickly and safely is an issue of equity.”
Funds will be allocated to school districts offering in-person instruction and weight for districts serving students from low-income families, English learners and foster youth. Rollout is intended for February, beginning with the return of young children, and then working toward other grade levels through the spring.
Newsom’s plan takes into account that children get COVID-19 less frequently than adults and exhibit less severe symptoms. What’s more, transmission among students is found to be uncommon and children most often get it from household contact. In fact, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention recently reported that children were more likely to spread COVID-19 through out-of-home gatherings than school.
Mitigation is key to the success of this framework. In addition to frequent testing, staff and students will be required to wear masks and school staff will be prioritized to receive the vaccine in the spring. Families will have access to a web-based hotline to report any concerns and a state dashboard to monitor their school’s reopening status, among other information.
“This framework is a positive step forward in ensuring that every child— regardless of where they may live or be enrolled in school— has the ability to receive quality instruction in California,” Sen. Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) said. “Students learn and perform at their best in person, and parents across the state are anxious to ensure that their kids don’t fall further behind due to the pandemic.”
Distance learning will remain available for those who choose it and for counties that do not meet the threshold of fewer than 28 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.