State says kids could return to class in person as early as February

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom encouraged schools in California to resume in-person education next year, introducing a four-point plan that could see some kids back in classrooms as early as February.

Newsom said he wants to start with the youngest students, and promised $2 billion in state aid to promote coronavirus testing, increased ventilation of classrooms and personal protective equipment.

He said the recommendation announced Wednesday was driven by increasing evidence that there are lower risks and increased benefits from returning to in-person instruction, particularly for the youngest students.

The state’s four steps for reaching that goal, as laid out in a news release, include:

1. 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.

2. 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. 

3. 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. 

4. 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.

“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,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a statement.

“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.”

The proposal comes as California remains consumed by a growing pandemic crisis. But hope is on the horizon as vaccines begin rolling out, with educators among those recommended for shots after the initial round goes to health care workers.

You can read more about the plan here.

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