On the morning of Dec. 30, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a plan to incentivize the reopening of California public schools. During a 10 a.m. virtual press conference, Gov. Newsom outlined his administration’s “Safe Schools for All” plan, which contains a variety of funding and technical support measures to encourage local educational agencies to resume on-campus instruction.
You can view the slides Gov. Newsom used in his presentation here:
The Governor stated the plan was prompted by research suggesting that, with proper mitigation efforts, a safe return to school is possible. He noted that the plan is designed to address the negative social and emotional impacts as well as the disruption to learning that can occur with prolonged periods of online instruction — particularly for younger children, low-income students, students with disabilities and other disproportionately affected populations.
As a reference for LEAs and the public, the administration provided three documents that summarize the Safe Schools for All Plan:
- Summary: CA Safe Schools for all plan
- Evidence Summary: TK-6 Schools and COVID-19 Transmission
- Rationale: CA’s Safe Schools for All Plan
In order to become law, Safe Schools for All must be approved by the Legislature. Newsom repeatedly stressed the influence of Senator Connie Leyva and Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell in developing the plan, suggesting passage is likely. In sum, the plan is based on eight principles designed to facilitate reopening.
Funding: The budget will propose for immediate action in January, $2 billion for the safe reopening of schools beginning in February, with a priority for returning the youngest children (TK-2nd grade) and those who are most disproportionately impacted first, then returning other grade levels to in-person instruction through the spring. 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.
Safety & Mitigation: To further ensure health and safety in the classroom, the administration will focus on implementation of key measures, including testing, personal protective equipment, contact tracing and vaccinations.
Testing: The administration will support frequent COVID-19 testing for all school staff and students, including weekly testing at schools in communities with high rates of transmission. For example, any interested public school will be on-boarded to the state-owned Valencia Branch Lab for PCR tests at one-third the market rate and the state will establish a hotline to help schools implement testing.
PPE: All staff and students in schools are required to wear masks. Furthermore, surgical masks will be recommended for school staff, and the administration will distribute millions of surgical masks to schools at no cost. The administration has also enabled schools to leverage state-negotiated master contracts for PPE to reduce costs and streamline supply chains.
Contact Tracing: Schools will continue to be on-boarded onto the School Portal for Outbreak Tracking (SPOT) to improve collaboration between school and health officials, and members of the state contact tracing workforce will be deployed to improve communication with schools.
Vaccinations: School staff will be prioritized in the distribution of vaccines through the spring of 2021.
Oversight & Assistance: Dr. Naomi Bardach, a UCSF pediatrician and expert on COVID-19 transmission in schools, will lead the Safe Schools for All Team, a cross-agency team composed of dedicated staff from the California Department of Public Health, Cal/OSHA, and educational agencies. The team will provide hands-on support to help schools develop and implement their COVID-19 Safety Plans. These supports include school visits and walk-throughs as warranted, webinars and training materials, and ongoing technical assistance.
Transparency & Accountability: A state dashboard will enable all Californians to see their school’s reopening status, level of available funding and data on in-school transmissions. Additionally, a web-based “hotline” will empower school staff and parents to report concerns to the Safe Schools for All Team, which will lead to escalating levels of intervention, starting with technical assistance and ending with legal enforcement.
These principles are intended to allow for a phased return to in-person instruction that prioritizes younger students and those disproportionately impacted by distance learning and paves the way for a full return to school with safety measures in place. Gov. Newsom stated the administration’s goal is for “all communities to be back on-campus” in early spring 2021, although distance learning would remain an option for families that prefer that mode of instruction.
During the question and answer portion of the press conference, State Board of Education President Linda Darling Hammond also alluded to the possibility of some kind of formal instruction continuing beyond the normal end of the school year. We anticipate that more details on this and other aspects of the school reopening plan will be contained in the Governor’s 2021-22 Budget Proposal, which Newsom is expected to present on Jan. 8, 2021.
CSBA has already provided initial feedback on the plan and will continue that dialogue. We remain committed to resuming in-person instruction when it is safe to do so in a local context, recognizing that needs and circumstances vary greatly in California’s more than 1,000 school districts and county offices of education. We will continue to press for the funding, resources, staffing and expertise required to meet the challenges of your local schools and will provide further updates as more information becomes available.
The Valencia Lab webpage on testing.covid19.ca.gov now has a specific section regarding schools: https://testing.covid19.ca.gov/valencia-branch-laboratory/#become.
This site includes:
- A one-pager on Schools and the Valencia Lab
- An interest form that districts and schools can fill out and submit online
Finally, Version 3.0 of the CDPH Valencia Branch Laboratory Playbook, which includes components for schools, is posted at: https://testing.covid19.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/332/2020/11/CDPH-Valencia-Branch-Laboratory-Playbook.pdf