On Wednesday, December 30th, California Governor Gavin Newsom introduced a $2 billion plan and a new tiered framework of modifications to be implemented to reopen schools for in-person education. Safe Schools For All is the official name of the plan, which was announced on the heels of growing evidence of the decreased risks and increased benefits of in-person instruction.
The Youngest First
The strategy by Newsom’s administration is focused on ensuring implementation and building confidence by bringing back the youngest children(TK-2) and those that are most vulnerable first, then phasing in other grade levels through the spring. Distance learning will remain an option for parents and students who choose it, as well as for those whose health status does not allow them to return to school in the near term.
Which Schools Can Participate?
Unfortunately, only 11 counties out of the 58 in the state are eligible to participate. The plan only allows schools to participate if they are in counties with fewer than 28 positive coronavirus cases per 100,000 people. The start date for the program is still to be determined, pending the infection rates of California counties. However, it is currently slated for February 15 for students in transitional kindergarten through second grade, and March 15 for students in third to sixth grade.
Incentives for Districts
The Local Control Funding Formula dictates that participating districts will receive additional funding, to the tune of $450 per student, plus an additional amount per student based on the number of high needs students (low-income students, English learners, foster and homeless children). Governor Newsom noted that the extra amount could be as much as $250 per student in addition to the base amount.
A California Priority
As cases continue to surge and California hospitals are overrun with COVID-19 patients, it is clear that we aren’t out of the woods yet. Despite the hope a vaccine brings, a veritable light at the end of a long, dark tunnel — we are still months away from returning to some sense of normalcy. But, it is clear that the Newsom administration is making education a priority in the reopening of the state.
“Getting our kids back to school safely must be the top priority for our state and guide our reopening policy. School is an essential service for millions of California children and their families, especially in lower-income communities where we are seeing higher rates of adverse health impacts tied to prolonged time away from the classroom.”Shannon Udovic-Constant, MD, Chair of the California Medical Association Board of Trustees
Read on below for a detailed dive into the essential elements of the plan:
The Safe Schools for All Plan
The plan requires legislative approval to go into effect for the current school year. As it stands, four pillars make up California’s Safe Schools for All framework:
Funding to Support Safe Reopening
Safety measures such as testing, ventilation, and PPE will be supported by the $2 billion bill for schools that have resumed in-person instruction or are phasing into in-person instruction by early spring.
Safety & Mitigation Measures for Classrooms
Classroom measures include:
- Frequent testing for all students and staff
- Weekly testing for communities with high rates of transmission
- Masks for all students and staff (including millions of surgical masks for school staff)
- Improved coordination between school and health officials for contract tracing
- Prioritization of school staff for vaccinations
Hands-on Oversight and Assistance for Schools
The Safe Schools for All team is headed by Dr. Naomi Bardach, a UCSF pediatrician and expert on school safety. The cross-agency team includes a dedicated staff from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), Cal.OSHA, and educational agencies.
This team will provide:
- Hands-on support to help schools develop and implement their COVID-19 Safety Plans
- Schools visits and walk-throughs as needed
- Webinars, training materials, and ongoing technical assistance
Transparency & Accountability for Families
& School Staff
A state dashboard to allow all Californians to see their school’s reopening status, level of available funding, and data on school outbreaks. In addition, a web-based “hotline” will empower school staff and parents to report concerns to the Safe Schools for All Team, which will prompt escalating levels of intervention. Interventions will start with technical assistance and run up to legal enforcement.