California Unveils Plan to Push Schools to Reopen by April 1

California public schools will receive financial incentives to reopen campuses by April 1 for their youngest and most vulnerable students under a deal Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders announced today after months of tense negotiations. 

Under the plan, schools are not required to reopen. Decisions still rest with school boards, administrators and labor unions, so it is unclear whether the deal will actually result in widespread campus reopenings.

Prompted by parents who have been protesting school closures, Newsom and Democrats who control the Legislature said they hope that the $6.6 billion compromise will prod public schools to reopen after most campuses have been closed for nearly a year.

Legislators said they will vote on the plan Thursday, and Newsom said he would quickly sign it into law. 

“We expect that all of our (transitional kindergarten) to (grade) two classrooms will open, and then the next month, we want to see more happen beyond that,” Newsom said during a press conference at an elementary school in Elk Grove. “We’re now accelerating the pace of reopening.”

But parent activists blasted the plan, saying they fear it will not compel enough schools to reopen. 

“This isn’t a breakthrough, it’s a failure,” said a statement from Pat Reilly, a parent advocate with the Open Schools California group who has children that attend Berkeley schools.

“Make no mistake, there will still be closed schools and kids left behind a month from now and months afterwards until the Governor, legislature or the courts force them open.” 

As California nears the March 13 anniversary of its initial school closures, most of the state’s 6.1 million K-12 public school students remain in distance learning. California and other West Coast states have been among the nation’s most cautious states in returning students and teachers to classrooms.

Under the plan, schools that remain closed would have to explain their reasons why, and they would lose 1% of the grant funding they are slated to receive for every school day their campuses remain closed past April 1.

To get their share of the $2 billion in grant funding, school districts will have to do the following: 

  • Offer in-person instruction to students in transitional kindergarten through second grade once case rates in their community fall below 25 positive cases per 100,000 residents, part of the state’s purple tier.
  • Bring students through sixth grade, as well as students in at least one full middle- or high-school grade level, back in person when local case rates fall below seven positive cases per 100,000 residents, known as the red tier. 
  • Offer in-person instruction to some targeted student groups of all grade levels, regardless of public health conditions or tier status. Included are students with special needs, homeless, foster youth, English learners, kids who’ve been chronically absent from distance learning and students at risk of abuse or neglect.
  • Families can still opt to keep their students in distance learning even when schools hold in-person classes.

E. Toby Boyd, president of the California Teachers Association, said in a statement that the deal “gets us one step closer to rejoining our students for in-person teaching and learning.”

“We are reviewing the proposal’s details more closely, and we look forward to working with local educators as they negotiate with districts to safely reopen for in-person teaching and learning beginning in one month,” Boyd said.

The deal also includes $4.6 billion in discretionary funds for schools to address students’ learning loss this school year, by, for example, extending the school year or offering summer school.

Republican Kevin Faulconer, who is running against Newsom next year or if a recall qualifies for the ballot this year, criticized the plan, saying it doesn’t go far enough to get students back in classrooms. 

“The partial reopening plan announced by Gavin Newsom today isn’t even close to good enough for our kids and teachers,” Faulconer said in a statement. “For him to tout this as an accomplishment after months of inexcusable failures shows how out of touch he is, and why he should be recalled.”

Among the key differences in the new compromise compared to previous proposals is clarification that teacher vaccines are not required for physically reopening schools. But it also would etch in state law Newsom’s pledge to set aside 10% of incoming vaccines for educators, which helped break the political logjam, said Democratic Assemblymember Phil Ting. This helped resolve some of the educators’ concerns.

“What really helped get the confidence of educators was the ability to get a certain amount of vaccine prioritization,” Ting said on a call with reporters. 

Newsom and public-health experts say schools can physically reopen without vaccinating teachers so long as they use strict safety measures such as masking and distancing. But vaccines have been the key sticking point between school districts and teachers unions.

Although teachers were among the prioritized professions in the state’s broad Tier 1B Phase 1 group, a county-by-county rollout resulted in a haphazard picture for teacher vaccinations. 

Newsom said all appointments on Thursday and Friday at California’s two FEMA-run mass vaccination sites in Oakland and Los Angeles will be reserved for teachers, school staff and childcare workers. 

Also starting today, the state has set aside at least 10% of all vaccine doses for educators and childcare providers with the goal of giving 75,000 doses weekly to these essential workers, according to Darrel Ng, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health. More than 50,000 doses are earmarked for Los Angeles County, where the Los Angeles Unified School District alone employs more than 26,000 teachers. San Diego County is expected to receive about 20,000, Ng wrote in an email.

Doses will be prioritized for teachers, childcare workers and school staff already working in person or about to return to schools and daycare centers, Ng noted.

County departments of education will give single-use priority codes to K-12 school districts that staff can use to find appointments on the state’s COVID-19 vaccination website, myturn.ca.gov.

Newsom would not comment today on whether the state will add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of immunizations required for school or daycare. California is one of five states that allow only medical exemptions for school vaccinations, not personal or religious exemptions.

The bill also makes clear that districts that have already reopened campuses do not have to negotiate new agreements with their labor unions; they can essentially keep their existing plans in place.

As vaccine accessibility has increased for teachers in recent weeks, more large school districts, including Long Beach and Elk Grove, have set return dates for this month for some students. With roughly three months of school left on most district calendars, about three-fourths of the state’s 100 largest school districts remain in full-time distance learning, according to a CalMatters tally.

Elk Grove Unified, the first California school district to close campuses last spring, reached a deal with its teachers union last week to phase in students’ on-campus returns, beginning March 16 with grades TK-3.

“We’re moving forward because of the relationships that we have with our labor partners,” Elk Grove superintendent Chris Hoffman said.

Though some school districts in the state have been open as early as last August, only about one-fourth of California elementary students are in districts offering hybrid or in-person instruction. About 85% of the state’s high school students remain in distance learning.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

Comments

  1. It is simple. Tell the unions/boards that all schools will open in 2 weeks. All teachers are invited back. If we are short of teachers, put out a call to retired teachers for some temporary help. And kiss “tenure” good bye. Teachers will be hired with one year contracts renewable for another year, then go to 5 year contracts. However, they can be fired at any time for malfeasance or poor performance. And NO we are not withholding union dues from their checks. If they want to support the union, let them figure it out. However, the union will NOT tell us what to do. It is time to get the union strangle hold out of education.

  2. JimNorCal says

    Great ideas, Anziani.
    Scott Walker of WI made huge progress on this while Governor of his state.

  3. I think it’s a good thing that the schools stay closed forever in California. They’re teaching our kids to hate this country, their parents and in some cases, themselves.

    There’s a lot of taxpayer money being wasted on huge salaries for union bosses, and teachers that teach our kids garbage. It’s time to give parents vouchers to send their kids to private schools to get a real education, learn how to compete and give them skills they can use as adults

    The public education system in California is at the bottom of the barrel – let it stay closed forever.

  4. Let’s do this right.
    Pull a Reagan-plus!
    The “plus” is that all student lending stops and all illegal immigration stop also. These two steps keeps students who want to be tenured students, racking up debt they can’t repay. And, without the illegals there will be more jobs for high school and college age students to finance their upper education.
    Then fire every public school teacher and public education administrator. From k through every level of college/universities.
    Every last one, tenure or not, can them.
    Then, immediately start rehiring under a new set of rules. They have to be individuals of good character that know how to teach successfully. No union members will be hired, unless they renounce their membership. Public employees in a union are unethical and that sets a bad example.
    From there you will get quality, productive employees, who will have the motivation to teach. We don’t have schools for someone to draw a salary, but teach our children the right curriculum.
    Our taxes may not go down but we will probably be getting a graduate who knows his nations correct history, how his government works, how to balance and budget their money, and now be in debt when they graduate.

  5. Chris Renner says

    Basically this plan by Newsome says it all. From the Public Teachers Unions to the California taxpayers…”Extorsion works!”

  6. Really??? says

    One issue the Dems held up school openings is transportation. They have been saying bikes and walking are the “new normal.” Not so. The minute the state opens up and people start going to dine out, shows, and vacations it will be autos not buses or bikes.

    The “close the streets down” crowd will be faced with intentionally caused congestion. The question becomes one, will the voters who put these idiots in office vote them out when faced with congestion and expensive tax dollar supported road diets….?

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