Newsom announces new wave of funding as schools return to in-person instruction

Governor provides $6.6 billion financial incentive to get kids back to school; Tulare County drops below 25 cases per 100,000 persons, paving the way for K-6 students to return to the classroom

CALIFORIA – Governor Gavin Newsom announced a deal with state legislators Monday morning to fast-track public schools reopening this spring across the state, providing $6.6 billion in funding incentive to get kids learning at desks.

State legislators will vote Thursday on SB 86 and AB 86 to push this commitment out to California’s students and educators. The state will dedicate $2 billion specifically for grants to help with in-person instruction. Grants include funding for PPE, ventilation, spacing and issues related to health and safety. Newsom said the remaining $4.6 billion will go toward reimagining the school year, giving districts flexibility.

“Looking at school days, deeper intervention to address kids’ wellness, to address their needs as it relates to community learning hubs, address learning loss as the districts see fit,” Newsom said, “including potentially extending the school year and moving the school year into the summer.”

Newsom said he expects all transitional kindergarten (TK) through grade 2 classrooms to be open in the next month. For unified districts in red tier counties, TK through grade 6 is expected to be back by April 1 with a commitment to one grade in both middle and high schools. All public schools in counties with fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 residents would lose 1% of funding eligibility for every day they are not compliant with these standards after April 1.

California’s counties are trending toward the red tier as a whole, with as many as 16 counties now in the red tier. Tulare County still sits in the purple tier, but the county’s seven-day average positive test rate qualified for the red tier while two other key metrics sit solidly in the purple tier.

While the Newsom announcement provides funding incentive to step on the gas to get schools open, many schools have already returned TK through grade 2 to in-person or hybrid learning in Tulare County. As the county’s adjusted seven-day average for new cases per 100,000 people dropped below 25 – sitting at 18.4 as of press time – the door opened for schools to reopen for kindergarten to grade 6 students, some of which had already been operating on hybrid learning or in person programs on previously state-approved waivers, while for others the case per capita milestone was the greenlight they’d been waiting for.

Feb. 24 was an important day for students, parents and educators within Tulare City School District, where third and fourth graders in entirety returned for in-person classes after months of learning from home. March 3 marked the return of all of fifth and sixth grade students, completing the return of all TK to grade 6 students back on Tulare City School District Campuses.

“We’re just excited to get kids back to our campuses,” said Brian Hollingshead, superintendent of Tulare City School District.

Farmersville Unified was the first Tulare County school district to open kindergarten to grade 3 on Dec. 1 and grades 4 to 6 on Dec. 8 via a hybrid program that provides options for parents who don’t yet feel comfortable sending their kids back to in-person learning.

Farmersville Unified Superintendent Paul Sevillano said the school received a waiver approval in November and met all the new conditions for the State’s updated safety requirements. He said even though the county has dropped below 25 cases per 100,000 residents, they are going to stick to their plan in Farmersville.

“What we are going to be looking at is how do we comply with all the safety plan requirements around increasing the number [of students on campus],” Sevillano said. “As of right now , we don’t have any classrooms over 14. We do think that’s going to change as more parents are going to want their students to return, so we’ll have to accommodate for that.”

Sevillano said about 60% of their students are still doing distance learning, with Monday being a full day of distance learning for all students. In-person students are on campuses from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, where the distance learning students meet in the morning for 90 minutes, and then again from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sevillano said his district currently has zero students or staff out on quarantine, which he attributed to the districts contact tracing efforts.

Sequoia Union in Lemon Cove has been open for K-6 since Oct. 26, and started with split classes so half of its roughly 350 students would be on campus Monday and Thursday, and the others Tuesday and Friday, eventually moving to four days for all students. Sequoia Union Superintendent Ken Horn said many preparations were made to meet their approved waiver plan. He said keeping students six feet apart required new desks to be purchased, hiring three new teachers and even refurbishing three new classrooms that were not previously in use.

“We do double bus runs in the morning and afternoon to make sure the kids on the bus are separated in physical distance,” Horn said. “Everybody wears a mask, we provide those in the mornings if the parents have not already put a mask with the students.”

Horn said the board’s direction to him was to go to four days for all the kids as soon as possible, but he didn’t want to rush it. He said opening in October helped them learn that they have to go slow to go fast.

“I know there were people that wanted us to just get it open, but we wanted to make sure we did a good job on our waiver so that it would get accepted,” Horn said. “It worked on two days a week with the two separate groups. Once we went to four days a week, the kids already had it modeled for them, so they knew exactly what to do, and it worked perfectly.”

Horn said Sierra Union has had just five confirmed cases of COVID-19 since their October opening.

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