Behind the ‘Wild West’ of School Reopenings

An academic year in which public education will intersect with public health has created back-to-school shopping lists unlike any other for California’s schools as they attempt to transition toward in-person instruction once they have the state’s blessing.

Bakersfield’s Panama-Buena Vista Union School District plans to hire a manager to handle contact tracing for a system of 19,000 students and 4,000 employees. 

Anaheim Union High School District spent more than $500,000 this summer on additional band instruments so students won’t have to share clarinets, saxophones and flutes to reduce risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Among the few California schools to physically reopen, Yreka Union High School District near the Oregon border is spending about 10% more than it would in any given year to hire more maintenance staff to support exhaustive cleaning efforts.

While an overwhelming majority of students began the year in distance learning, schools are preparing for that moment, sourcing personal protective equipment for teachers and kids in a competitive market, figuring out how they will trace coronavirus cases and test employees, and wondering just how far their dollars will stretch this year.

The laundry list of safety measures schools are spending on is due to new state public-health requirements they will have to abide by for in-person learning, and mounting pressures to bring students back to campuses to help stop widespread learning loss and revive a sputtering state economy.

Doing that will require safety precautions to help prevent coronavirus outbreaks and give parents, students, teachers and staff enough confidence to return in person. The exact costs related to health and safety measures depend on how much of the year schools will offer in-person instruction. That amount of time is in turn tied to local health conditions and, school officials say, whether they will have enough money in their budgets to sustain it. 

This summer, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Office of Emergency Services procured a 60-day supply of protective equipment for the state’s 1,037 school districts, anticipating that campuses were going to physically reopen to begin the new term. Order forms of the $53 million shipment obtained through a public-records request partially illustrate the scale and cost attached to reopening schools for the state’s 6.1 million K-12 students:

  • $633,457.10 for more than 204,000 N95 respirators for school nurses
  • $2,732,978.56 for 55,912 no-touch thermometers 
  • $6,729,690.24 for 154,068 gallons of hand sanitizer
  • $14,142,785.63 for almost 7.2 million cloth face coverings for elementary students

The state and FEMA have helped with masks. In some counties, such as Kern, hospitals and businesses have chipped in with donations for personal protective equipment, or PPE. But high demand for supplies have driven up costs and attracted sketchy vendors looking to make money off some districts in urgent need of supplies. 

School leaders have called on the federal government to help with the extraordinary costs of doing distance learning and physically reopening schools they say could threaten efforts to bring students back on campuses.

In San Diego Unified, superintendent Cindy Marten said a precarious budget situation will affect how quickly and to what extent the state’s second-largest school district will be able to offer in-person instruction this year. To date, the district has spent $11 million on personal protective equipment.

“When the funding’s not there, we will have to stop (reopening),” Marten said Thursday, calling on Congress to pass a financial relief package for schools. “When you reopen and you can’t put the appropriate nursing and counseling and distancing in place and physical changes that need to happen, you slow it down or you don’t do it as safely.” …

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  1. Camille Giglio says

    Very recently I was informed by my hair dresser that I would have to fill out a form prior to attending a scheduled haircut appointment. I received the two pages of forms online. Following a reading of these two extremely invasive forms totally negating any of my constitutionally protected rights to recompense should I be injured in any way while inside the establishment, I refused to sign them. The forms,which contained a typo, were so I learned, prepared by the salon owner, which contained a typo error. It was labeled as a waiver against any right to sue the establishment should I be injured or contract Covid-19.
    My hairdresser explained that it was just a contact tracing form I was agreeing to. In fact it went way beyond any government mandated contract tracing form in several respects.
    I told my hairdresser, whom I would hate to lose, that I would no longer need her services if she refused me the haircut because i would not sign my Civil Rights away.

  2. Gail Contreras says

    I would like to ask if there is a way to determine how much we overpaid for the items Newsom purchased and if the state was targeted with price gauging

  3. The Dimms not only want power, they want CONTROL, it;s different. The easiest way to the top is to brainwash your little darlings before they really find out what the world is all about. This not only splits families but it gives you a lesson in subjugation.

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