ELK GROVE, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom and state leaders unveiled a $6.6 billion plan to safely reopen schools – some as early as the end of March – as California continues to show positive signs in the fight against coronavirus.
Money for the “Safe Schools for All” plan is divided into two parts, with $2 billion being used for grants to support in-person learning, like purchasing additional personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilation, spacing, or any other issues related to health.
The remaining $4.6 billion will go toward “reimagining the school year,” Newsom said. That money would give districts the flexibility to address a wide range of issues from extending the school day, or even the school year, all the way to tutoring, mental health services, substitute teachers, and more.
“Since the height of the winter surge, we have successfully shifted the conversation from whether to reopen schools to when,” Newsom said.
Under the plan, all California public schools will be required to reopen to grades TK to 2nd for all students and for high-needs students in all grades by the end of March. If they do not, they will lose 1% of eligible funds every day until they are reopened.
Schools in “red tier” counties or better are will be required to reopen for all students in all elementary grades and at least one middle or high school grade or risk the same penalty.
“Our core belief is this: once you dip your toe in, once you build a cohort confidently, once you build trust, then we will begin to see a cadence of reopening across the spectrum,” Newsom said.
The money will be distributed through the normal funding method that provides local districts with state money, which would ensure more money for schools that serve primarily low-income students. Districts will also get an additional $1,000 for every homeless student they have. However, districts must meet the requirements by March 31 in order to get the money.
The bill will not require all students and staff to be vaccinated before returning to the classroom and it would not require districts to get approval from teachers’ unions before returning.
Jeff Freitas, President of the California Federation of Teachers, told the Associated Press the plan doesn’t meet every benchmark the union sought but does make progress from prior plans. The prioritization of vaccines for teachers — 10% of the state’s allocation with a minimum of 75,000 per week — is “a huge victory,” he said.
The state’s two largest FEMA vaccination sites – at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum in and California State University, Los Angeles – will host “educator days” this Thursday and Friday exclusively for teacher vaccinations. These vaccination doses will not count toward the 10% state allocation, Newsom said.
The Elk Grove Unified School District Parent Coalition issued a statement in response to the reopening plan, calling it a “failure” and claiming the state left concerned parents out of the decision-making process.
“The science says we can reopen safely now for a full in person instruction with proper mitigation strategies in place. For those parents who wish to remain in distance learning they should have that choice as well,” the group said, in part, in a press release.
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