Governor Newsom pushes schools to open in February

Paul Myers

Elementary schools in counties with 28 new daily cases per 100,000 people or lower can reopen, offering $450 per student that return to in-person instruction

SACRAMENTO – Gov. Gavin Newsom’s post-Christmas present to California schools came in a $2 billion mid-year budget request to help get young students back to class.

Newsom announced on Dec. 30 that he wanted to push schools to reopen by as early as February. An emphasis is being put toward transitional kindergarten through second grade students, but the governor hopes to reopen elementary schools through sixth grade. According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), “Older students are better equipped to manage technology and benefit from distance learning, but younger student – especially TK-2 – are less equipped.”

The proposed $2 billion will be allocated for schools beginning in February for those grades but also for those who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. CDPH said funds will provide approximately $450 per student to school districts offering in-person instruction and will be weighted for districts serving students from low-income families, English learners and foster youth.

Newsom’s proposal still needs legislative approval, but the Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE) commented on Monday to say that county schools have a good chance at receiving a hefty portion of that money.

“Given Tulare County’s student population, it stands to reason that our districts will be highly considered for these funds,” Tulare County Superintendent of Schools, Tim Hire said.

TCOE public information officer Rob Herman said Hire was expected to speak with many of the districts on Monday and Tuesday and will have a better idea of how many schools intend to proceed under the governor’s plan.

Newsom’s announcement introduced a break away from the color-coded format adopted in the fall that dictated which grades could open and which ones could not. Although, it did not change that much. Newsom said during his press conference that reopening elementary school would apply to counties with 28 daily new cases per 100,000 residents. As of Dec. 30, Tulare County had 73.1 new cases per 100,000 residents. A far cry from the metric needed to reopen elementary schools writ large.

The last time Tulare County’s daily new case rate was at 28 or below was on Nov. 23, the week of Thanksgiving. New daily cases only continued to surge through most of December, and peaked at 95 on Dec. 19. Since then, new daily cases have trended downward. But Newsom and health experts in California expect a second surge following the Christmas and New Year holiday. That leaves a lot of doubt on whether Tulare County will bring their new daily cases to 28 by February.

But even if new cases met the metric, school districts still need to work their way through the rigors of hashing out a safety plan. Newsom highlighted safety and mitigation efforts such as testing, the issuance of personal protective equipment, contact tracing and vaccinations. CDPH notes the Newsom, “will support COVID-19 testing for all school staff and students, including weekly testing at schools in communities with high rates of transmission.”

The CDPH added that staff and students in schools are required to wear masks. Schools will continue to be “on-boarded” onto the school portal for outbreak tracking (SPOT) to improve collaboration between school and health officials. And as vaccine distribution further roles out CDPH said, “School staff will be prioritized in the distribution of vaccines through the spring of 2021.”

Newsom said elementary schools will have to submit their plans to state and local health agencies for approval. The governor added that after approval local and state officials can monitor the plans implementation to provide supports or enforce guidelines.

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