Newsom says monitored counties cannot open school campuses in the fall

Gov. Gavin Newsom. Courtesy of the Office of the Governor

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that counties being monitored by the state, of which L.A. County is one, are not allowed to open their public and private school campuses in the fall.

Newsom said that if a county has been placed on a list being monitored by the state for worsening coronavirus trends, of which there are 33, they will not be allowed to reopen for on-campus classes until they have not been on the list for 14 straight days. 

Counties that are not on the list, and allowed to reopen, will need to follow strict guidelines in order to reopen to ensure the safety of their students and staff, Newsom said.  

“Learning in the state of California is non-negotiable,” said Newsom. 

There are more than 6 million students within California school districts. Two Santa Clarita Valley school districts, the William S. Hart Union High School District and the Castaic Union School District, have already announced that they will be using an online format for the beginning of the 2020 fall semester/trimester. 

In addition to all school staff, students in third grade and above must wear masks, Newsom said. Masks are optional, but strongly encouraged, for students in the second grade or below. 

“Our students, our teachers, our staff and, certainly, parents, we all prefer classroom instruction for obvious reasons,” said Newsom. “But only if it can be done safely.”

Newsom laid out five principles that he wanted instilled within school districts in order for them to return to campuses: 

  • Safe in-person school based on local health data. 
  • Strong mask requirements for anyone in the school. 
  • Physical distancing requirements and adaptations. 
  • Regular testing and dedicated contact tracing for outbreaks at schools. 
  • Rigorous distance learning. 

For the first principle, Newsom emphasized that counties listed as those with negative trends for coronavirus cases are not allowed to physically reopen for in-person instruction. 

In a statement published Friday by the Los Angeles County Public Health Department, officials said they would adhere to the state school guidelines.

“While it is disheartening and unfortunate that Los Angeles County students can’t plan for a normal first day back at school, we respect the governor’s decision to insist that counties reduce the rate of community transmission before schools reopen for in-person classroom learning,” said Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “I know this is difficult news for the children and families of Los Angeles County, and we will need to work together as a county to support quality distance learning opportunities for families and all children until students can get back to in-person instruction at their schools.”

Newsom said the closure decisions would be made by public health officers and that, after 14 days of not being on the state’s “watch list,” a district may return with the approval of the local public health officer. 

As for the other requirements, Newsom stated that everyone within a school must remain 6 feet apart and that health screenings will be required, as well as regular testing for staff. 

In order to ensure that the distance learning is effective while counties wait to be taken off the watch list, Newsom said school districts should pursue having a device for every child, have live interaction between teacher and student daily, maintain challenging course work, and have supports in place for English-learner and special education students.

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