Insisting that safety is "non-negotiable,'' Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a $2 billion plan today to get young students back to in-person learning as early as spring.
It is unclear how quickly such a move would occur in Southern California, which is being particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposal calls for a "phased-in, in-person learning strategy that would focus disproportionately on those youngest cohorts and those that are most in need -- our high-risk children, special education, those populations -- foster care, homeless children -- and others that need that extra amount of support,'' Newsom said.
The plan would include $2 billion to bankroll safety measures at schools that return to in-person instruction, including COVID-19 testing and protective equipment. It calls for frequent testing of students and staff, masks for everyone on campus and prioritizing school staff for vaccinations.
Newsom's proposal would begin with students in pre-kindergarten through second grade. And while the push is to resume in-person learning as much as possible, distance learning will still be available.
According to the Governor's office, "Developed in partnership with the Legislature, the Administration's plan focuses on ensuring careful implementation and building confidence by supporting schools to bring back the youngest children (TK-2) and those who are most disproportionately impacted first, then phasing in other grade levels through the spring, as conditions allow. This phased-in approach recognizes that younger children are at a lower risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19, with core safety measures in place."
"There's a lot of trepidation, we recognize that, a lot of anxiety, about going back into the classroom, which one has to clearly acknowledge,'' he said. "Not just for our teachers but also for our parents, particularly with kids who may have unique conditions.''
Despite the governor's aggressive timeline, it was unclear how quickly students in the Coachella Valley might be in a position to return to classes on a widespread basis.
The Los Angeles Unified School District recently canceled all in-person instruction on campuses in response to the current surge in cases.
News Channel 3 brought it to you live on air and online. You can view the announcement in the player below:
The state website says "As a father of four, Governor Newsom agrees with parents, educators, policymakers, and pediatricians that in-person is the best setting to meet not only the core learning needs of students, but also their mental health and social-emotional needs."
The California Department of Public Health published this information on what they are calling the 'four pillars' of the plan.
- Funding. The Budget will propose for immediate action in January, $2 billion for the safe reopening of schools beginning in February, with a priority for returning the youngest children (TK-2nd grade) and those who are most disproportionately impacted first, then returning other grade levels to in-person instruction through the spring. These funds will provide approximately $450 per student to school districts offering in-person instruction and will be weighted for districts serving students from low-income families, English learners and foster youth.
- Safety & Mitigation. To further ensure health and safety in the classroom, the Administration will focus on implementation of key measures, including testing, PPE, contact tracing, and vaccinations.
- Testing. The Administration will support frequent COVID-19 testing for all school staff and students, including weekly testing at schools in communities with high rates of transmission. For example, any interested public school will be on-boarded to the state-owned Valencia Branch Lab for PCR tests at one-third the market rate and the State will establish a hotline to help schools implement testing.
- PPE. All staff and students in schools are required to wear masks. Furthermore, surgical masks will be recommended for school staff, and the Administration will distribute millions of surgical masks to schools at no cost. The Administration has also enabled schools to leverage state-negotiated master contracts for PPE to reduce costs and streamline supply chains.
- Contact Tracing. Schools will continue to be on-boarded onto the School Portal for Outbreak Tracking (SPOT) to improve collaboration between school and health officials, and members of the state contact tracing workforce will be deployed to improve communication with schools.
- Vaccinations. School staff will be prioritized in the distribution of vaccines through the spring of 2021.
- Oversight & Assistance. Dr. Naomi Bardach, a UCSF pediatrician and expert on COVID-19 transmission in schools, 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 warranted, webinars and training materials, and ongoing technical assistance.
- Transparency & Accountability. A state dashboard will enable all Californians to see their school's reopening status, level of available funding, and data on in-school transmissions. 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, starting with technical assistance and ending with legal enforcement.
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