SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond hosted a webinar on Thursday for local educational agencies (LEAs) and education partners to lead a discussion on how schools can use new state and federal funding to invest in strategies that will facilitate a safe and impactful return to in-person learning. Over 700 individuals registered for the event to get up-to-date guidance from experts in public health and school districts.
“The Delta variant is more common now and more transmissible, and case numbers are again rising in many areas. Masking, vaccinations, and rapid COVID testing are absolutely essential to move forward,” said Thurmond. “With that as our context, we are uplifting the important efforts underway at our schools and how they are using the funds flowing from this historic education budget to get open, stay open, and meet the needs of their students in this moment.”
California Department of Education (CDE) Chief Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Stephanie Gregson facilitated the event, and panelists included Dr. Naomi Bardach, State Lead of the Safe Schools for All Team; Superintendent Francisco Escobedo from Chula Vista Elementary School District; Andra Yeghoian, Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Coordinator from the San Mateo County Office of Education; and Alison Yoshimoto-Towery, Chief Academic Officer from Los Angeles Unified School District. Experts described specific strategies for safely returning to in-person instruction by targeting dollars toward literacy programs, student mental health and wellness, outdoor education programming, rapid COVID-19 testing, and more.
Bardach opened the session by explaining the science behind transmission and what that means for school prevention and mitigation efforts. She outlined the framework of the Safe Schools For All Initiative, which includes funding, technical assistance, tangible safety measures, and transparency and accountability efforts. “We are now looking ahead to 2021–22 informed by the evidence that we have from last year and informed by the major game changer, which is having vaccinations,” Bardach stated. “Vaccines make a huge difference. They really decrease the risk of spreading COVID-19 in our communities and our schools.” Bardach walked through key layers for safe schools that include vaccines combined with testing, masking, ventilation, and staying home when sick.
Escobedo and his team highlighted Chula Vista Elementary School District’s rapid COVID testing program as well as the commitment to using both state and federal funding toward improving mental health services such as increased psychologist time, additional counselors and social workers, and implementing a virtual academy and overhauling ventilation at each of the district’s 46 school sites.
Yeghoian spoke to ways outdoor learning programs are being utilized to reduce transmission of the virus, increase space for learning and play, and boost academic and mental health outcomes. She provided concrete steps for districts to consider as they implement outdoor learning strategies. Chief Academic Officer Yoshimoto-Towery described L.A. Unified’s Primary Promise, a program to accelerate literacy and math, language, and critical thinking skills. She walked through a systemic approach that focused on explicit teaching and modeling, emphasis on language, vocabulary development, and targeted individual and small group instruction.
CDE Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Constancio rounded out the panel with a presentation on how LEAs can use COVID relief funds. LEAs have access to nearly $33 billion in funds to address issues arising from COVID-19. Constancio explained: “This funding represents a combination of state and federal funds and is found across programs such as Learning Loss Mitigation and ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds and from AB 86, state level investments for in-person instruction, and expanded learning opportunity grants. This funding has been used for everything from purchasing of devices and connectivity that make the shift to remote learning possible, for academic supports to make up for lost instructional time, and supporting our students as they deal with mental and emotional tolls of the pandemic.” Constancio’s presentation highlighted how LEAs are using funding toward learning recovery strategies, COVID testing, outdoor learning, ventilation, and accelerating learning, and she provided additional resources and links to where CDE has made information available on its website.
“This is the first of many conversations that we intend to continue to have with you to help answer questions together,” said Thurmond. “Wear a mask, get a vaccine if you can, use rapid COVID testing, and know that we can support recovery and build an education system that was better than what we had before for all of our students.”
Before ending the virtual meeting, Thurmond challenged attendees to share information through a brief survey on efforts to safely reopen schools across the state. “I want you to invite me so I can come and help your schools and how we can support you in reopening them and, of course, to see the smiling faces of your students.”
A recording of the webinar is available on the CDE Facebook page.
The California Department of Education is a state agency led by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. For more information, please visit the California Department of Education’s website.