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California presents plan to reopen schools

-Editorial

While most schools in California are closed due to COVID-19, state and local officials continue to discuss ways to reopen schools with the proper safety measures. 

Governor Gavin Newsom announced the launch of transparency, accountability, and assistance measures related to the Safe Schools for All Plan. The Safe Schools for All Hub – schools.covid19.ca.gov – was launched as a one-stop-shop for information about safe in-person instruction, and will be updated frequently.

“Learning is non-negotiable, and getting our kids and staff back into the classroom safely will help us continue turning the corner on this pandemic,” said Governor Newsom. “With proposed new funding and ongoing conversations with districts, school employees, stakeholders, and the Legislature, we remain committed to our Safe Schools for All Plan and helping all students – with a focus on those in disproportionately impacted communities – get the help they need to return to in-person instruction.”

The announcement follows on the December unveiling of the Safe Schools for All Plan and reflects the best available science regarding safe in-person instruction, which the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) recently summarized. The Plan is built on four pillars: (1) funding; (2) safety & mitigation; (3) oversight & assistance; and (4) transparency & accountability.

The four pillars of the Governor’s Safe Schools for All Plan advance a comprehensive, multi-faceted strategy to ensure that, as transmission rates decrease, the priority for California communities is to resume in-person instruction. Schools should reopen safely according to a phased-in approach that prioritizes our youngest students and students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including students with disabilities.

Imperial Valley schools have been closed since March and will continue to be that way while Southern California continues to be the strict Stay-At-Home order. 

Imperial County Health Officer, Dr. Stephen Munday said they meet with the local school district every week to inform them about what is happening in the state.

“The new guidance is to bring back our students to in-person learning, especially our younger kids, but all the students we can in a safe environment,” Munday said. “We are seeing an improvement in infections and ICU capacity and if the trend continues and our numbers improve we talk again with our school leaders and our businesses about reopening again. Also that fact we are vaccinating our population will be helpful.” 

Governor Newsom said he wanted to see students go back by February. Munday said that could happen but it will depend a lot on what are the covid numbers in the next month to allow schools to reopen again. 

The Budget presented by Newsom will propose for immediate action in January, $2 billion for the safe reopening of schools beginning in February, with a priority for returning the youngest children (TK-2nd grade) and those who are most disproportionately impacted first, then returning other grade levels to in-person instruction through the spring. These funds will provide approximately $450 per student to school districts offering in-person instruction and will be weighted for districts serving students from low-income families, English learners, and foster youth.

Safety & Mitigation. To further ensure health and safety in the classroom, the Administration will focus on the implementation of key measures, including testing, PPE, contact tracing, and vaccinations.

Testing. The Administration will support frequent COVID-19 testing for all school staff and students, including weekly testing at schools in communities with high rates of transmission. For example, any interested public school will be on-boarded to the state-owned Valencia Branch Lab for PCR tests at one-third the market rate, and the State will establish a hotline to help schools implement testing.

PPE. All staff and students in schools are required to wear masks. Furthermore, surgical masks will be recommended for school staff, and the Administration will distribute millions of surgical masks to schools at no cost. The Administration has also enabled schools to leverage state-negotiated master contracts for PPE to reduce costs and streamline supply chains.

Contact Tracing. Schools will continue to be on-boarded onto the School Portal for Outbreak Tracking (SPOT) to improve collaboration between school and health officials, and members of the state contact tracing workforce will be deployed to improve communication with schools. Vaccinations. School staff will be prioritized in the distribution of vaccines through the spring of 2021.

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