California’s Plan to Reopen Schools Safely Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

Written by Skyler Shipp (News Writer)

On January 8th, Governor Gavin Newsom revealed his plan for school reopening, which includes more education spending than before. Within the $89.5 billion education budget, there is $2 billion in grants for reopening primarily elementary schools and $4.6 for summer schools to address learning loss, adding up to an extra $450-750 per student. (Lost Coast Outpost)

Whether schools receive this funding depends on if districts meet the required deadlines. Districts need to submit safe plans for reopening by February 1st. The next deadline for schools to meet is February 16th, when they are required to offer in-person instruction to Kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders, as well as students who are at risk of failing. Finally, schools must begin in-person instruction of third-sixth graders by March 15th. (Lost Coast Outpost)

This plan still leaves most decisions up to individual districts since it only gives financial incentives for reopening rather than requiring it outright. Newsom’s plan is very different from AB10 which requires counties to reopen schools once they leave the purple tier. AB10 is expected to be proposed to the State Assembly this month. If passed, AB10 would provide a far clearer path to reopening rather than the patchwork of protocols that will exist under Newsom’s current plan. The bill would require public school districts and charter schools to create a plan to offer in-person instruction within two weeks of the county exiting the purple tier. However, it would make sure that students will still have access to distance learning if they choose not to return to campus. (EdSource)

School closures across the country have had a severe impact on students, and have widened already existing achievement gaps. According to McKinsey and Company, black and Hispanic students in the US are almost 20% more likely to be in remote learning situations. Furthermore, black and Hispanic students are about 2x more likely than white students to no access to live instruction. While the study points out that gaps in access to technology have decreased significantly since March, they still exist, with black and Hispanic students not having access to devices or the internet at the same rate as white students.

Student access to technology and proper instruction remains a major issue but what is perhaps more significant is the severe drop in test scores, especially at the elementary level. K-5 math scores for majority-white schools this year are 69% of the average of the school’s scores for the previous three years while schools that are majority students of color saw scores only 59% of the average for the last 3 years (McKinsey & Company). This disparity is also apparent in English scores, where majority-white schools on average achieved 90% of the average for the previous three years, while that number was only 77% for schools that are majority students of color. This loss of learning will harm students at all levels of education across the country. 

Both Newsom’s current plan and AB10 attempt to address learning loss. The Governor’s plan includes the previously mentioned $4.6 billion for summer school to address learning loss while AB10 would require districts to “develop and implement a plan for “tiered re-engagement strategies” for all English learners and low-income, foster, and homeless students — comprising more than 60% of students in the state — “who are performing below grade level.” …Schools would then have a choice of offering in-person instruction at a minimum of 50% of instructional minutes required, or creating summer school for in-person instruction.” (EdSource)

Newsom’s plan is in effect, but whether AB10 will pass is uncertain. Right now there is a decent chance that we will see elementary schoolers going back to in-person instruction fairly soon if SLVUSD intends on getting the extra funding, however, the possibility remains that we choose not to re-open, cannot reach a deal with teachers unions, or do not fall below the required maximum county COVID-19 case count, and therefore lose the extra funding. If AB10 passes, the path forward will be more clear since our schools would be required to reopen within two of Santa Cruz County exiting the purple tier. Students, parents, and teachers definitely have mixed feelings about reopening. When asked about the risks of reopening, SLV student Steve Bukowinski said, “I don’t necessarily want schools to reopen, but I’m not opposed to it either.” However, he also stressed that “A COVID outbreak is entirely possible. Even with masks, if someone has it and is regularly in the same space as other people, COVID can definitely spread.”

The path forward is uncertain at this point, and whether or not schools in SLVUSD resume in-person classes depends on many factors, especially the COVID-19 case count in Santa Cruz County. In a recent letter, SLV Superintendent Dr. Bruton explained that we must reach a case count of 28 per 100,000, but we are currently at a rate of 41 per 100,000. If we meet the goal younger students will begin to return to in-person classes, yet the future for most Middle and High schoolers remains uncertain. If AB10 passes, we are likely to see all schools resume in Santa Cruz County in the next few months if we manage to exit the purple tier.

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