SAN DIEGO — Following weeks of negotiations, state lawmakers have agreed to a $6.5 billion plan to help California’s school districts re-open safely. The Safe and Open Schools plan comes as San Diego parents rally to get their children back in the classroom.
“We are ready for our kids to be back in the classroom, we can do it safely,” said Stacie Bernard, parent.
Another group, Californians for Safe Schools, would rather wait to return to campus until COVID-19 data shows it’s safe to go back to in-person instruction.
“We are a little bit stir crazy, I can't wait for the schools to reopen but we need to do when case rates are low enough,” said Lisa Delano-Wood, parent.
The $6.5 billion Safe and Open Schools plan requires county public health officials to offer vaccinations to school staff returning to in-person teaching.
For districts to receive money, they must offer in-person classes by April 15 to vulnerable students in lower grades including English learners, homeless students and those without computers and foster children.
In a joint statement, several school districts including San Diego Unified, Los Angeles and Sacramento says this is a step in the right direction.
“What we really need is a phased-in approach, it offers schools districts a way to access what is working well at the school site,” said Enrique Ruacho, SDUSD Government Relations Director.
San Diego Unified hopes to have some students return to a hybrid schedule in the spring and full-time by the fall.
A teacher who recovered from COVID supports the district’s approach.
“I think they are putting not only teachers and safety first but making me as a parent feel that I will be able to trust when we go back that it will be safe,” said Christine Kratt, teacher.
At Poway Unified School District, elementary students are already back to campus on a hybrid schedule and the district applied for a waiver to open middle and high schools.
“Any additional funding is much appreciated and Poway Unified is well on our way in terms of reopening,” said Christine Paik, PUSD Communications Director.
The plan also allows schools to spend money on COVID tests and equipment.
Carlsbad Families for Reopening Schools, pushing to reopen schools, is concerned about the state’s latest funding plan. Elementary schools are on a hybrid schedule five days a week and the district is applying for a waiver to open middle and high schools, which could open as soon as March 1.
They believe this plan will derail their reopen strategy to reopen.
Reopen San Diego also issued a statement in part:
"Rather than a life raft to rescue students from the endless sea of Zoom school, the "SOS" Plan leaves students to tread water longer while prioritizing the needs of educators at their expense. California schools must reopen IMMEDIATELY FOR ALL GRADES before more students drown under the social, emotional and academic toll of prolonged school closures."
After the deal was reached, Governor Newsom released a statement saying:
“Since the first week of this year, the Legislature has had before it our Administration’s plan to accelerate and support school reopenings for our youngest students – as safely and quickly as possible. My Administration has not waited: in that time, we have prioritized school staff for COVID-19 vaccinations, launched new online tools for transparency and accountability, provided technical assistance to hundreds of school districts, and are directly supporting over a thousand schools with routine COVID-19 testing. More importantly, local leaders have not waited: every day, more school leaders and staff are coming together to announce safe returns to in-person instruction.
“Our plan is grounded in the same science that’s been recognized by the medical professionals at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by the President’s Chief Medical Adviser, Dr. Fauci, and by the President himself.
“While the Legislature’s proposal represents a step in the right direction, it doesn’t go far enough or fast enough. I look forward to building on the growing momentum to get our schools open and continuing discussions with the Legislature to get our kids back in school as safely and quickly as possible.”