SAN FRANCISCO (AP/KTXL) — Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration said Wednesday that all California schools should reopen when the new academic year begins next fall, though his guidelines remain merely an expectation rather than a mandate.
Facing political pressure and a recall effort, Newsom has said he plans to lift most of California’s coronavirus restrictions June 15 as part of reopening the state to business-as-usual. Earlier this month, he made a similar pronouncement, but many districts and teachers remain reluctant.
“This is the week we’ve been waiting for, where we see massive scaling of our children returning back into schools,” Newsom said.
Speaking at a school in Santa Rosa, Newsom said schools in California should be 100% reopened by the time the new school year begins next fall.
“And so the bell has rung on those that want to hold back that progress,” he said.
However, he has still not made that a mandate, rather calling it an expectation.
“I want to challenge those districts but I also want to support them. Look, I’m mindful of the stresses that they’re under,” Newsom explained.
Meanwhile, California’s schools are way behind when it comes to returning to in-person learning.
“California is at the bottom of all 50 states right now,” said Dennis Roche, the president of Burbio.
Since August, Roche’s company has been tracking 1,200 school districts, including the largest 200 in the country. Roche said that number represents almost half the nation’s school population.
He also said California did not adjust its system for schools to reopen nearly enough.
“To allow schools to be open with maybe more testing or to actually in some cases they were changing the community’s threat threshold to make it easier to open schools. California didn’t do that,” Roche said.
Roche said the data he’s tracking shows school districts that received mandates with teeth from the state level were much quicker to get back to in-person learning.
“You really need very strong prescriptive guidance, not just incentives. You essentially need a mandate or an order to get it done,” he explained.
However, Gov. Newsom said Wednesday that the state’s education system is larger and more complex than those in other states.
“As a consequence, you have independently-elected school boards, county, local. You have a lot of voice and you have a lot of flexibility. It’s designed into the system. And so mandates are often not looked upon as favorably as you would like to think,” Newsom said.
Some of California’s largest school districts are welcoming students back for in-person learning this week, including the two biggest, Los Angeles and San Diego. But even with schools able to open, only 62% of elementary school students and not quite 40% of older students have the option to return, according to a tracker maintained by the Los Angeles Times.
Even in districts with in-class options, parents have complained of inadequate time as some offer just a few hours of instruction per week, primarily for younger students.
School officials say parents in communities hardest hit by the pandemic are opting to keep their children in distance learning, citing health and safety concerns.
Last month Gov. Newsom and the State Legislature passed an incentive plan, offering more than $6 billion to school districts that start to offer in-person instruction.
Wednesday he encouraged many districts to offer summer schools to make up for lost time.