Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a phased, in-person learning plan Wednesday, with support for the state’s youngest students to be on track to return to school as early as February.
The $2 billion plan is set to prioritize the youngest and most disproportionately impacted students, beginning with in-person learning for those students in populations most affected by COVID-19, grades kindergarten through second and special education, while the remainder of elementary students could return as early as March.
Even so, distance learning is expected to remain an option for parents and students.
“By focusing on a phased approach with virus mitigation and prevention at the center, we can begin to return our kids to school to support learning needs and restore the benefits of in-person instruction,” Newsom said. “It’s 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.”
Under the plan, elementary schools may reopen in counties that have a seven-day average of less than 28 cases per 100,000 residents if they submit a COVID-19 Safety Plan to both local and state officials, which local health departments can approve or deny within five days.
L.A. County’s current seven-day average is at 41.8 cases per 100,000, with an adjusted rate of 26.9.
“It’s a fundamental fact that learning remains non-negotiable, but obviously, neither is safety, so safety and mitigation measures, clearly, we believe can prevent transmissions in the school setting,” Newsom added.
To implement this safely, Newsom’s plan includes an early-action legislative package to provide $2 billion in support to schools that reopen for such safety and mitigation measures.
In counties in the purple tier, COVID-19 testing is expected to be available for symptomatic school staff and students, as well as asymptomatic testing every two weeks.
In addition, while students would be required to wear masks, staff would be expected to wear surgical masks, with millions being delivered to schools by the state for free, per the plan.
As vaccines become more widely available, school staff are also expected to be prioritized.
Hands-on oversight and assistance is set to be available for schools that reopen, with the state public health officials expected to participate in school visits and walk-throughs as needed, as well as provide webinars, training materials and ongoing technical assistance.
The state is also expected to launch a public database to track transmissions in schools in an effort to enhance transparency.
L.A. County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo issued a statement following the announcement, calling the return of students to school campuses in a safe environment a priority.
“I look forward to engaging our 80 district superintendents in conversations about the governor’s new plan for schools in January, working hand-in-hand with L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer as we have done from the start of the pandemic,” the statement read. “Right now, L.A. County is facing a horrific surge of COVID cases. The absolute best thing we all can do to reopen our schools is to strictly follow Public Health guidelines. Please help by avoiding gatherings, staying at home as much as possible, wearing your masks and maintaining a 6-foot distance from others when you do need to leave home. Please stay home, L.A. County, so we can welcome in a better new year for our school communities.”
Most of the state’s 6 million public school students have been learning remotely since the pandemic began in March, with some districts across the state reopening schools, including a handful of schools in the Santa Clarita Valley through the county’s school waiver program, which allows some students in grades transitional kindergarten through second to return to campus.
This plan recognizes that younger children are at a lower risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19, with Newsom citing a recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that found that for students, going to schools was not associated with having a positive COVID-19 test, rather that social gatherings were — including weddings, parties and play dates.
These results likely reflect that the more controlled school environment, including the safety and mitigation measures, like mask wearing and physical distancing, lead to a lower risk of transmission, per the study.
For more information on California’s Safe Schools for All Plan, visit bit.ly/CASafeSchoolsForAll.