California Gov. Gavin Newsom released an outline of California’s Safe Schools for All plan, which includes a $2 billion early action proposal for the expansion and implementation of safe in-person instruction, in a press release Wednesday.
The plan proposes a gradual reopening of public schools beginning in February, according to the press release. In addition, it gives priority to younger students in transitional kindergarten through second grade and students disproportionately impacted by school closures.
“By focusing on a phased approach with virus mitigation and prevention at the center, we can begin to return our kids to school to support learning needs and restore the benefits of in-person instruction,” Newsom said in the press release. “It’s especially important for our youngest kids, those with disabilities, those with limited access to technology at home and those who have struggled more than most with distance learning.”
Developed in conjunction with the California State Legislature, the plan is based on four “pillars,” including funding to support safe reopening, safety and mitigation measures for classrooms, hands-on oversight and assistance for schools, and transparency and accountability for families and school staff.
With these pillars, the plan is meant to prepare students for a safe return to schools by implementing measures such as COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, vaccinations, personal protective equipment, school visits from action plan team members and webinars. The plan also proposes establishing a dashboard and a web-based hotline that can be used to check the status of schools across the state, according to the plan’s summary.
However, many aspects, such as detailed criteria for receiving increased state funding, how and when school districts will be able to access student COVID-19 testing and how the target dates in the proposal influence the state’s current and local public health policies, remain unknown, according to Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Trish McDermott.
McDermott said in an email that the district will need to continue to work in accordance with health orders from the city’s health officer as it considers what returning to in-person instruction should look like.
“If State Orders are more restrictive than our local Health Orders, the more restrictive Order must be followed,” McDermott added in the email. “The District cannot currently open school campuses for in-person learning under our jurisdictional Health Orders, as we remain in the ‘Purple-Widespread’ State COVID-19 tier and are experiencing surge conditions.”
While the press release emphasizes the importance of returning to in-person instruction as quickly and safely as possible, distance learning will continue to be an option for families in circumstances that prevent them from a safe return to school.
McDermott noted that the plan currently awaits approval from the state Legislature. More details of the plan are to be expected in the weeks ahead, according to the press release.
“A safe return of kids to the classroom is on the wish list of countless California families, and Governor Newsom’s Safe Schools for All Plan paves the way,” said Celia Jaffe, California State PTA president, in the press release. “The plan is rooted in science, health and safety – all key tenets to any conversation about returning to in-person instruction.”