Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new guidelines Friday to determine which school districts are allowed to reopen classrooms in the fall.
In order to resume in-person class instruction, a county must have been off the state’s COVID-19 watch list for 14 consecutive days. Districts in counties on the watch list will only be able to do distance learning.
As of Friday, 33 of California’s 58 counties are on the COVID-19 watch list. That represents more than 80% of the state’s population.
Until now, decisions on how and when to reopen have largely been left up to individual school districts.
The state’s former guidelines for reopening schools recommended mask wearing for students, but now face coverings will be required for students in third grade and older. Face coverings are recommended but not required for kindergarten, first graders and second graders.
Masks will be required for all teachers and staff, who will also be required to get tested for the virus regularly..
The governor also announced new rules on when schools will be forced to close back down:
A classroom cohort has to go home when there is a confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The school also has to close when multiple cohorts have cases or if 5% of all teachers and students test positive.
An entire school district must close when 25% of its schools close within a 14-day period.
“Schools must provide meaningful instruction during this pandemic whether they’re physically open or not,” Newsom said. “We all prefer in-classroom instruction for all the obvious reasons, but only if it can be done safely.”
Even for schools that only do online, distance learning, Newsom said the state will be making sure there are “rigorous” standards.
“If we’re going to have distance learning, we will make sure that it’s real, that we address the divide and it is quality,” the governor said. “Learning is non-negotiable.”
Newsom said the new guidelines apply to K-12 education in the state. He added he is working with California’s universities to agree on health and safety guidelines that should be released in the coming weeks.
California reported 9,986 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours. As of Friday, COVID-19 patients occupy about 16% of the state’s ICU capacity.
With many California school districts just three or four weeks away from fall instruction, many are opting for full-time online distance learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. That’s the smart move for much of the state, said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond in a virtual press conference Wednesday.
“I think that if school opened tomorrow, most of our districts would open in distance learning,” said Thurmond. “And that is a decision that I think is a good decision if conditions don’t change right now.”
Thurmond called for “an abundance of caution” as many of California’s 1,000 school districts finalize plans for the new school term.
“In any place where there is uncertainty, we should proceed with caution. In many cases, that’s going to be opening in distance learning,” Thurmond said in a weekly media briefing held online.
However, there is no one-size-fits-all template for reopening schools, and classroom learning can still happen in counties or districts where it can be done safely, he said.