SACRAMENTO — Seeking to close a student learning gap exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a $2 billion “State Safe Schools for All” plan Wednesday aimed at encouraging schools to safely relaunch in-person instruction as early as February.
The plan is California’s new framework to support schools to continue operating safely in-person and to expand the number of schools safely resuming in-person instruction.
Informed by growing evidence of the decreased risks and increased benefits of in-person instruction – especially for our youngest students – Newsom is advancing a strategy that will help create safe learning environments for students and safe workplaces for educators and other school staff.
The plan was developed in partnership with the Legislature, and the Governor will propose an early action package to ensure schools have the resources necessary to successfully implement key safety precautions and mitigation measures. Components of the plan will be launched in the coming weeks.
“As a father of four, I know firsthand what parents, educators and pediatricians continue to say: in-person is the best setting to meet not only the learning needs, but the mental health and social-emotional needs of our kids,” Newsom said.
“In the midst of this pandemic, my Administration is focused on getting students back into the classroom in a way that leads with student and teacher health,” he said. “By focusing on a phased approach with virus mitigation and prevention at the center, we can begin to return our kids to school to support learning needs and restore the benefits of in-person instruction. It’s especially important for our youngest kids, those with disabilities, those with limited access to technology at home and those who have struggled more than most with distance learning.”
The Administration’s strategy focuses on ensuring implementation and building confidence by bringing back the youngest children (TK-2) and those who are most vulnerable first, then phasing in other grade levels through the spring. This phased-in return recognizes that younger children are at a lower risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19.
At the same time, distance learning will remain an option for parents and students who choose it and for those whose health status does not allow them to return to school in the near term. Please find additional details about the rationale behind the plan here.
California’s Safe Schools for All framework to safe reopening of in-person instruction is built on four pillars:
* Funding to Support Safe Reopening: The Budget will propose for immediate action in January, $2 billion to support safety measures – including testing, ventilation and PPE – for schools that have resumed in-person instruction or phasing in of in-person instruction by early spring.
* Safety & Mitigation Measures for Classrooms: To further ensure health and safety in the classroom, the Administration will support implementation of key health measures. This will include frequent testing for all students and staff, including weekly testing for communities with high rates of transmission; masks for all students and staff, including distribution of millions of surgical masks for school staff; improved coordination between school and health officials for contact tracing; and prioritization of school staff for vaccinations.
* Hands-on Oversight & Assistance for Schools: Dr. Naomi Bardach, a UCSF pediatrician and expert on school safety, will lead the Safe Schools for All Team, a cross-agency team composed of dedicated staff from CDPH, Cal/OSHA, and educational agencies. The Team will provide hands-on support to help schools develop and implement their COVID-19 Safety Plans. These supports include school visits and walk-throughs as needed, webinars and training materials and ongoing technical assistance.
* Transparency & Accountability for Families and Staff: A state dashboard will enable all Californians to see their school’s reopening status, level of available funding and data on school outbreaks. Additionally, a web-based “hotline” will empower school staff and parents to report concerns to the Safe Schools for All Team, which will lead to escalating levels of intervention beginning with technical assistance and ending with legal enforcement.
Please find additional details about the components of the plan here.
“These four pillars will serve as tools to safely guide our state’s return to in-person instruction and protect the health of students, educators and all school staff,” said CHHS Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “As a pediatrician and father, I know schools are the best place our kids can be and the positive impact in-person learning has on their overall health and well-being.”
Throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Newsom has prioritized the health and safety of California’s children and educators. He has worked tirelessly to ensure that learning continues, whether it is taking place in a living room or a classroom.
Within 72 hours of the first school closures, the State of California issued guidance for schools to provide instruction through distance learning. Beginning in May, the state also issued guidance regarding key school safety precautions and has continued to update the guidance, including pathways – regardless of county tier status – for all schools to serve elementary school students via waivers and to serve students with disabilities and others via stable cohorts.
The Newsom administration has also worked to build a pipeline of PPE and get critical supplies into the hands of students and educators and to bridge the Digital Divide with device donations, pledges from internet service providers and an executive order marshaling cross-agency resources to solve longer-term barriers to connectivity.
In partnership with the Legislature, Newsom secured $5.3 billion for California schools and fought hard to make sure that those funds were distributed equitably, taking into account school demographics and needs of students with disabilities and other student populations disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
Newsom has also prioritized students with special needs. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which entitles children with disabilities to special education and related services through an Individualized Educational Program (IEP), has not been suspended during the COVID emergency.
The budget enacted in June included trailer bill language (SB 98) making clear that distance learning must include required special education and related services for eligible students and that schools must determine what accommodations are necessary to ensure that required IEP services can be delivered in a distance learning environment. Thus, the state expects, and state law requires, schools implementing distance learning must deliver services required under IEPs.
Leaders and advocates react:
“This framework is a positive step forward in ensuring that every child – regardless of where they may live or be enrolled in school – has the ability to receive quality instruction in California. Students learn and perform at their best in person, and parents across the state are anxious to ensure that their kids don’t fall further behind due to the pandemic. I share the Governor’s goal of returning to in-person instruction as quickly and as safely as possible, and look forward to continue working with the Administration on this important issue,” said Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino), Chair of the Senate Education Committee.
“Offering as many California students in-person instruction as safely and as quickly as possible must be a team effort. All of us agree that, even during a global pandemic, learning is non-negotiable, and students learn best when they can be safely receiving instruction in school. The Governor’s plan is a first step towards reopening schools safely and I look forward to further discussions with him and the Legislature on this critical issue,” said Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), Chair of the Assembly Education Committee.
“A safe return of kids to the classroom is on the wish list of countless California families, and Governor Newsom’s Safe Schools for All Plan paves the way. The plan is rooted in science, health and safety – all key tenets to any conversation about returning to in-person instruction,” said California State PTA President Celia Jaffe.
“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. Getting schools reopened quickly and safely is an issue of equity. CMA stands ready to help policy makers and educators find ways to prioritize the needs of our children and their families, while ensuring that educators and kids are able to return to the classroom safely,” said Shannon Udovic-Constant, MD, Chair of the California Medical Association Board of Trustees.
“CSEA is appreciative of the governor’s continued commitment to safe reopening of California schools. Our members do the critical work of ensuring our students are healthy, safe, and ready to learn. Our Association President, Board of Directors, members, and staff look forward to continuing our partnership with state and district leaders to get our schools opened safely at the appropriate time, considering the needs of students, families, school employees, and our local communities,” said Keith Pace, Executive Director of the California School Employees Association.
“The pandemic and remote learning are delivering a double dose of harm to California public education. Black and Brown students especially are falling further behind academically and socio-emotionally and the school system as a whole is losing credibility with the public, despite heroic efforts. The solution to both problems is getting students back on campus safely, in person with their teachers and their peers. The proposal announced today holds real promise to accelerate that effort and to avoid surrendering the whole year as lost to the pandemic,” said Public Advocates Managing Attorney John Affeldt.
“I am in full support of Governor Newsom’s plan to reopen schools in California. We now have evidence from other countries and states that if we take the proper precautions we can open schools safely in several communities. The plan he has developed is sound and based on the best research available for keeping children and adults safe,” said Pedro Noguera, Dean of the USC Rossier School of Education.
For more information about the components of the plan, click here.
For more information about the rationale behind the plan, click here.
For more information about the science underpinning the plan, click here.