On Dec. 30, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the Safe Schools for All plan, structured to provide extra support to schools that are operating in person and expand the number of schools resuming in person classes.
Newsom isolated the rationale to push for reopening from dialogue on COVID-19 case numbers and said classroom learning is “especially important for our youngest kids, those with disabilities, those with limited access to technology at home and those who have struggled more than most with distance learning,” although he maintained distance learning will remain an option for parents.
“I want to emphasize this is about phasing in in-person instruction,” Newsom said, before summarizing a four-part plan that addresses additional school funding; classroom safety and mitigation; oversight and assistance guided by a new cross-agency team; and transparency measures designed to bolster parent-district intercommunication.
The governor proposed a $2 billion budget increase for schools to begin reopening in February. Children in Transitional Kindergarten, first and second grades would return first with other grade levels phased in afterward.
“These funds will provide approximately $450 per student to school districts offering in-person instruction and will be weighted for districts serving students from low-income families, English learners and foster youth,” Newsom said.
Along with increased funding, state administrators plan to increase support for campus and classroom safety efforts including weekly testing in communities with high rates of transmission, and continued contact tracing through the School Portal for Outbreak Testing.
“Administration is focused on getting students back into the classroom in a way that leads with student and teacher health” in part to address mental health and social-emotional needs of California students, Newsom said.
Already, students and staff are required to wear some form of mask or facial covering on campuses, however the new Safe Schools For All plan recommends surgical masks for school staff and the state announced they will distribute millions of surgical masks to schools at no cost through the plan.
Newsom also said school staff will be prioritized in the distribution of vaccines through the spring of 2021.
San Diego county is currently in phase 1a-tier one of immunization rollouts and will have to progress through two additional tiers of cohorts in this first phase before individuals who work in education and childcare are immunized in phase 1b-tier one inoculations.
Newsom also introduced pediatrician and purported COVID-19 school transmission expert Naomi Bardach as leader for a new cross-agency team staffed by California Department of Public Health, California Occupational Safety and Health Administration and educational agencies.
The new team is intended to provide school support in the form of webinars and training materials, ongoing technical assistance and possible campus visits.
Newsom announced a state online dashboard, designed to support transparency and accountability will make school reopening statuses, available funding and data on in-school transmissions accessible to all Californians, something many San Diego county schools have already implemented with district-level dashboards.
An evidence summary from the California Public Health says COVID-19 transmission from or between students is uncommon, citing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study which “found that for students, going to schools was not associated with having a positive COVID-19 test, but that social gatherings were— including weddings, parties, and play dates” and when children do get COVID-19, the predominant pattern of transmission is to get the infection from someone the child lives with at home.
The governor took questions following his overview of the new plan, including one in which he was asked whether he anticipated “blowback from teachers unions” but Newsom said most of what was being unveiled was designed out of direct feedback from teachers unions.
He also hinted at future plans to focus on recouping educational loss as the 2020-21 school year draws to a close.
“We are going to be creative in funding to address learning loss,” Newsom said.