On Friday, July 17, 2020 Gavin Newsom gave an address regarding the state of education in California given the impact of COVID-19. Newsom started his address with some “Bottom Line” points. First, he said that learning is non-negotiable, and that schools must provide meaningful instruction during the pandemic whether they are physically open or closed. Newsom’s second bottom line point was that students, teachers, staff, and Parents prefer in-classroom instruction but only if it can be done safely, with safety being determined by public health data.
Newsom then introduced California’s Pandemic Plan for Schools. The first part of this plan was the overarching goal, which is safe in-person school based on health data. Newsom explained that using health data, schools can physically open when their county has been off the monitoring list for 14 consecutive days. Schools that do not meet this requirement must begin the year distance learning. This means that it is highly unlikely that most California schools will be physically reopening this fall semester. Certainly, Parents of students enrolled in Los Angeles County schools should plan on distance learning for at least part of the 2020-2021 school year.
Secondly, Newsom addressed mask requirements for when schools physically reopen. The new requirements state that all school staff and students in 3rd grade or above must wear masks. In addition, all students in 2nd grade and below are encouraged to wear masks or face shields. If your child is sensitive to mask usage, now would be a good time to practice mask wearing prior to schools physically reopening.
Newsom then addressed physical distancing and other adaptations for when schools physically reopen. Some of these adaptations include that staff must maintain 6 feet between each other and students, regular symptom checks, hand washing stations, sanitation and disinfection, and quarantine protocols. It is not yet known how these would be implemented.
Next, Newsom discussed regular testing and dedicated contact tracing. He introduced a requirement to test staff regularly and stated that State contact tracing workforce will prioritize schools.
Newsom went on to address new requirements for “rigorous” distance learning. He emphasized access to devices and connectivity for all students, and stated that this would be fundamental to all distance learning. He then emphasized live interaction with teachers and other students. Newsom acknowledged that there were problems with distance learning in the Spring and that there is a lot of work to do in this area. This is connected to Newsom’s next requirement, which is the provision of challenging assignments equivalent to in-person classes. Newsom also stated that there would be adapted lessons for English language learners and special education students. Newsom also specifically mentioned foster care and homeless students, and the importance of educating these students during distance learning.
Newsom mentioned that in order to ensure quality instructed, the State has invested 5.3 billion in additional funding with priority on equity.
One major point is that schools will likely not reopen this Fall when they usually do. However, according to the Governor, the State has devoted funding in order to ensure that instruction is of a higher quality than it was this Spring. In addition, there are additional requirements to ensure that remote education is equivalent to education in the classroom. The 2020-2021 school year will be a true test of California’s education system.