Gov. Newsom orders California schools on watch list stay closedSFGate, by Amy Graff, July 17, 2020
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a Friday press briefing that schools in counties on the watch list for more than 14 days open with distance learning. Counties would need to meet strict criteria for schools to offer in-class instruction.
This marks a change in what Newsom has said in the past with the state initially giving school districts the flexibility to reopen on their own timelines in consultation with local public health officials.
Newsom also said the new reopening guidelines for schools require teachers and students in third grade and above to wear masks. There’s also a new requirement to keep students six-feet-apart.
More than half of the state’s 58 counties are on the watch list including seven Bay Area counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma. Being on the list puts restrictions on the ability to reopen various segments of the economy.
The California Department of Public Health created the watch list to monitor counties that experience significant changes in COVID-19 infection rates, an increase in hospitalizations, outbreaks in congregate settings or a rise in community transmission at workplaces. Counties on the list are working with the state to identify the causes for any worrisome trends and next steps to mitigate the virus spread. The watch list is constantly changing based the latest data available from public health departments.
Several school districts have already said their schools will begin the new term virtually, including Los Angeles and San Diego, the state’s two largest, with a combined population of 720,000 K-12 students.
San Francisco Unified School District announced this week fall semester classes will begin August 17 via distance learning exclusively.
The news, sent in a letter by Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews, notes that the district eventually hopes to implement a “hybrid approach” to learning. This involves a combination of in-person classroom learning and virtual instruction, but only “when science and data suggest it is safe to do so.”
Administrators intend to release a plan detailing ways in which virtual learning can be improved in a meeting with the San Francisco Board of Education on July 28 at 3 p.m. The “most essential details” will be shared with parents the following day.
Oakland, Sacramento, Long Beach, Santa Ana and San Bernardino are among the other districts opting not to immediately return to classrooms.
Some districts have said they aim to open with hybrid models. The Palo Alto Unified School District recently approved a plan for distancing learning for high school and middle school students and a return to classrooms for elementary school students. The Alum Rock district in San Jose said 90% of students will continue with online school while 10% will come to class. Students in foster care and with disabilities will be prioritized for on-site school.
The decisions were made amid growing concern by teachers and parents over the state’s surge of coronavirus cases and uncertainty surrounding the safety of both students and staff on campuses. The state this week reported its second-highest one-day totals in infection rates and deaths since the start of the pandemic and more than 7,200 have died.
Many small, rural communities argue they shouldn’t have to comply with the same rules as big cities where infection rates are higher. Thurmond indicated Wednesday that he agreed.
“We have some counties in this state where the number of cases is actually quite low,” Thurmond said. As long as schools in those counties follow state guidance on hand washing, six feet (1.8 meters) of spacing, maintaining physical distance and face coverings, Thurmond said, “we believe that those schools can open safely.”The Associated Press contributed to this story.