Governor Gavin Newsom announced July 17, 2020, his plan for learning and safe schools ahead of the 2020–2021 school year, as the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued a framework for when and how schools should reopen for in-person instruction.
“Learning is non-negotiable, The virus will be with us for a year or more, and school districts must provide meaningful instruction in the midst of this pandemic,” Newsom said. “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.”
This is an edited version of the Governor’s plan, which centers on five key areas:
1. Safe in-person school will be based on local health data
The CDPH has issued updated schools guidance to determine if school districts can start in-person instruction, and will track the level of COVID-19 infection in each California county as well as the preparedness of the county health care system.
Any county that does not meet the state’s benchmarks is put on the County Monitoring List. Https://covid19.ca.gov/roadmap-counties/#track-data can tell if a particular county is on the Monitoring List and why.
Schools located in counties that are on the Monitoring List must not physically open for in-person instruction until their county has come off the Monitoring List for 14 consecutive days. Schools in counties that have not been on the Monitoring List for the prior 14 days may begin in-person instruction, following public health guidelines.
Local health officers may also grant a waiver to allow elementary schools to reopen in-person instruction if the waiver is requested by the district superintendent, in consultation with labor, parents and community-based organizations, and with the CDPH.
The school should revert to distance learning when multiple cohorts have cases or 5% of students and staff test positive within a 14-day period. Students and staff, who are exposed to the virus, should be quarantined for 14 days.
The district should revert to distance learning when 25 percent or more of its schools have been physically closed due to COVID-19 within 14 days. Closure decisions should be made in consultation with local health officers. After 14 days, school districts may return to in-person instruction with the approval of the local public health officer.
2. Strong mask requirements for anyone in the school
In the updated guidance, all staff and students in 3rd grade and above will be required to wear a mask or face covering. Students in 2nd grade and below are strongly encouraged to wear a face covering. Students should be provided a face covering if they do not have one.
3. Physical distancing requirements & other adaptations
The CDPH requires that all adults stay 6 feet from other adults and children. Students should maintain 6 feet of distance from one another as practicable. Anyone entering the school must do a health screen, and any student or staff exhibiting a fever or other symptoms will be immediately sent home. If anyone in a student or staff member’s household is sick, they should also stay home.
4. Regular testing and dedicated contact tracing for outbreaks at schools
The public health guidance recommends staff in every California school be tested for COVID-19 periodically based on local disease trends and as testing capacity allows. The Governor also announced today that the state will provide resources and technical assistance for COVID-19 investigations in school settings.
5. Rigorous distance learning
Over the course of the pandemic, most schools will likely face physical closure at some point due to COVID-19. The Legislature and Governor Newsom enacted a budget that provided $5.3 billion in additional funding to support learning, and set requirements to ensure schools provide rigorous and grade-appropriate instruction.
Under newly enacted state law, school districts are required to provide: devices and connectivity so that every child can participate in distance learning, daily live interaction for every child with teachers and other students, class assignments that are challenging and equivalent to in-person instruction, and targeted supports and interventions for English learners and special education students.