What’s that we see at the end of the tunnel? Is it… light?
Perhaps. And we like to think so. We need our businesses and schools and lives to regain some semblance of normal. We’re seeing signs of promise, as elementary school students start returning to school and some high school sports get the green light to resume competition.
The COVID-19 statistics of late have been promising, as case numbers and hospitalizations are trending downward, although there have been a couple of days this past week when the numbers of new cases seemed to be creeping back in the wrong direction.
But, fingers crossed. The prospect of L.A. County moving from the most restrictive “purple tier” into the “red tier” seems, at last, somewhat realistic.
And regardless of whether that’s daylight at the end of the tunnel or a freight train, this much is now certain: Schools across California will be opening soon, and those that have reopened will continue to expand their efforts to get kids back in classes.
Because money talks.
The state Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom are essentially bribing schools to reopen, in the form of a $6.6 billion payout package courtesy of Assembly Bill 86.
The package includes approximately $4 billion to be distributed to all of the state’s schools, and $2 billion in “financial incentives” to schools that offer in-person instruction by April 1.
You can almost hear school districts across the state perking up and saying, “What’s this you say? There’s a $2 billion pie to split up? We want our piece of that!”
If anything is an incentive for school districts to arm-wrestle resistant teachers’ unions to get back to work in person, that’s it.
It shouldn’t be necessary.
State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, put it well when he offered his reluctant support of the bill.
“The truth is AB 86 doesn’t do anything to reopen our schools. I believe with or without this bill school districts that want to reopen will and school districts that don’t want to reopen won’t,” said Wilk. “The truth is we don’t need AB 86 because the governor has the ability himself to put kids first and sign an executive order reopening our schools and he has chosen not to do so.”
AB 86 stops short of mandating that schools reopen, but states, “It is the intent of the Legislature that local educational agencies offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible during the 2020–21 school year.”
And, the governor’s administration says: “In-person is the best setting to meet not only the core learning needs of students, but also their mental health and social-emotional needs.”
We agree. Too much time, too much education, has already been lost to COVID-19 and distance learning.
And the impacts are not just academic. According to a study by the nonprofit Fair Health released on Tuesday, mental health-related medical claims doubled among teens 13-18 from 2019 to 2020 (January through November data). Instances of intentional self-harm, overdoses and substance abuse, and mental health diagnoses all rose sharply. For instance, generalized anxiety disorder diagnoses for those 13-18 spiked by 93.6% from April 2019 to April 2020 — still relatively early in the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the California Public Health Department has cited multiple studies indicating it’s safe for kids to go back to school, so long as the proper protocols are followed.
In a statement accompanying California’s Safe Schools for all Plan, the state Public Health Department said research shows that kids get COVID-19 less often than adults, and when they do, they get less sick than adults do. Further, the department says, global studies of open schools indicate children don’t appear to be major sources of COVID-19 transmission, among themselves or to adults.
The “incentives” ensconced in AB 86, then, really shouldn’t have been necessary.
Regardless, the race is on for school districts to open, and for those in purple-tier counties — like L.A. County — to move into the red tier, get schools open, including high schools, and claim their share of that $2 billion by April 1.
Do we object to schools reopening? Absolutely not. But it’s a shame that, in the effort to make it happen, the state has essentially said that light at the end of the tunnel is a giant, glowing dollar sign.