Hart, Newhall join letter to state leaders to reconsider school reopening plans

Students complete assignments during their small cohort classes at Live Oak Elementary School as pictured Feb. 2, 2021. Courtesy of the Castaic Union School District

The William S. Hart Union High School and Newhall School districts on Monday joined scores of other California districts and education offices in a letter to state leaders, urging them to reconsider school reopening plans proposed under new legislation. 

The bills in question are Senate Bill 86 and Assembly Bill 86 — an identical version of the Senate bill — which lays down conditions for in-person learning. 

SB 86 and AB 86 include $2 billion in incentives for schools in “red-tiered” counties that submit their plans to have TK-6 students back on campus April 15 and make $6.6 billion available for school activities “that support academic achievement by offering supplemental instruction and support,” according to the bills. The legislation would also require county public health departments to make COVID-19 vaccines available to school-site personnel. Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement last week that the legislation, which echoes elements from his 2020 Safe Schools for All plan, “doesn’t go far enough or fast enough.”

“It is clear attempts were made by the Legislature to address several of the concerns we raised relative to efforts to reopen more schools to in-person instruction for students. Unfortunately, the language in SB 86/AB 86 could have unintended consequences and slow down current plans to expand reopening,” read the letter from school districts and education offices. 

On Monday during a two-hour-plus hearing, some lawmakers disagreed, with Assemblyman and Assembly Budget Committee Chair Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, calling the letter “tone-deaf.”  

“We should not be motivated by an arbitrary calendar date,” said Assemblyman Alex Lee, D-San Jose. “It’s important we make it a safe environment for our students, families and educators.”

The letter also included concern over “vaccine access” possibly being used as a reason to stall reopening efforts. 

“(W)hile SB 86/AB 86 do not require schools to make vaccines available to school staff prior to reopening, the bills do not include explicit language stating vaccine access is not a condition for returning to work and providing in-person instruction,” read the letter, which suggested a “do no harm” approach “under the state’s framework without additional complications of more changing standards and rules.” 

Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares, R-Santa Clarita, said in a statement Friday the bills are “far from acceptable.” 

“The measure is so overly restrictive of local control that if passed today, the bill would likely delay school re-openings for months and potentially prompt the closure of already reopened schools,” she said. 

A bill hearing Wednesday was postponed and could return for a hearing sometime next week. 

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