California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond held a virtual briefing on Dec. 17 in which he called for a focus on recovery efforts after students return from winter break.
Citing the current death toll of 160 Californians per day, Thurmond said the public stay-at-home order is in effect and students, many on distance learning, are feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that first closed schools in most districts on March 13.
Alpine Union School District Superintendent Rich Newman said on Nov. 11 the district is still planning to have students return to campus four days a week for in-person learning on Jan. 19, 2021.
There were no active cases in campus learning students prior to being released for winter break on Dec. 18.
There is no question, Thurmond said, that a forthcoming vaccine “represents an opportunity to get our schools open,” and said he is calling for educational staff to be at the front of the line for that immunization.
However, as the first doses of the newly approved Pfizer vaccine arrived in California on Dec. 14, Gov. Gavin Newsom said distribution would be staggered.
“Vaccines will be administered in phases by prioritizing groups according to risk and level of exposure. Initial doses will go to California’s essential healthcare workers and those among our most vulnerable in long-term care settings;” a timeline has not yet been established to indicate when school personnel would be on schedule for immunization.
“We need to look at how we can support our schools in the meantime,” Thurmond said. “$2.1 billion has been disseminated to our collective school districts,” and another round of mini-grants meant to reduce learning gaps that can be used with families were released this past week.
Thurmond also said the Department of Education posted webinars intended for educators that focus on social-emotional learning gaps.
“We know the pandemic has affected everyone with depression and suicide rates but especially our students,” Thurmond said.
Anticipating a post-winter break attendance slide, he said school districts will identify students who have not checked in. “We also have to be providing rigor to those students who have thrived through distance learning,” he said, although “We’ve had to shelve some programs and move into survival mode” for the duration of the pandemic.
“We are in the most difficult of circumstances,” Thurmond said.