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After a difficult past few months, Governor Newsom and the leaders of the California Legislature finally announced a $6.6 billion school reopening deal in Elk Grove on Monday.
As reported by Politico, the proposal would give grants to schools if they reopened schools for Transitional Kindergarten through Second Grade and all at-risk students by the end of March, even if they are in the Purple Tier, the state’s most restrictive tier. When a county enters the Red Tier, to receive that grant funding, the school must open for all elementary grades as well as at least one middle school grade and one high school grade. The county could lose some of that potential money for each day they remained closed starting April 1. There is no mandate for schools to reopen and allows for hybrid schooling options as well.
Vaccinations are not mandatory, but it can be assumed that Newsom wants most teachers to be vaccinated during the period of time before the proposed reopening.
This framework is counter to a recent survey conducted by the New York Times of experts who say elementary schools should reopen now. About 85% of those experts surveyed, when asked whether it was the right decision for their respective school district to fully reopen, said it was the right decision.
This new framework also moves the goal posts Newsom’s previous reopening plan, which he proposed in December. In that proposed framework’s guidance, called Safe Schools for All, elementary schools would have been allowed to reopen with grant money by February 15 for grades TK-2 and March 15 for grades 3-6, according to EdSource. This is as long as the county has under 25 adjusted daily cases per 100,000 people. The remaining grades could reopen if the respective county reached the Red Tier and remained in it for a period of time.
The latest plan comes as the California Department of Public Health’s released their updated Blueprint for a Safer Economy. With this new update, fifty-seven out of fifty-eight counties have reached Newsom original’s K-6 school reopening threshold. Seven new counties have moved to the Red Tier, including San Francisco, Santa Clara, and San Luis Obispo. Twelve counties might be moving to a lower tier next week, including Alameda, Solano, Placer, and Santa Cruz to the red tier.
Newsom previously cited a Harvard Global Health Institute study as a reason for that 25 case rate benchmark for elementary school reopenings, but now appears to have ignored it in favor of the even stricter Red Tier requirement for reopening grades 3-6 without a scientific study explaining why that is necessary.
Many states, including Florida, Texas, Utah, Wyoming, Montana have nearly all of their students in-person, according to Burbio. Even New York, a big liberal state, has a significantly higher in-person score than California. As noted in our previous articles, California’s benchmarks for reopening are significantly stricter than New York’s.
While Newsom claimed he worked with unions and school district superintendents on the deal, some major groups have criticized the Governor’s plans and appear to have contradicted his claim.
The UTLA (United Teachers of Los Angeles) president Cecily Myart-Cruz said reopening schools now “is a recipe for propagating structural racism and it is deeply unfair to the students we serve.” In the UTLA’s statement, they condemned the proposal insinuating that it “would send extra dollars to affluent areas that are able to reopen because of low infection rates, leaving students from low-income communities of color behind.”
San Francisco Unified’s spokeswoman, Gentle Blythe, said no amount of money will influence them to change their timeline for reopening, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Many parents believe their voices have not been heard during this process.
“Kids are not at risk with COVID-19. We’ve learned a lot about this virus and know schools are safe,” said Sean Mitchell, a member of the Elk Grove Unified School District Parent Coalition’s leadership board and parent of three, telling the California Policy Center. “We are very concerned that the parent community is not stakeholders in the process as afforded us under the law as the reference to bargaining partners excluded parents, teachers, and students.”
While Newsom may have finally gotten a deal with legislative leaders, he still has major vocal opposition on all sides for his reopening ideas. This continues as more and more schools continue reopening in other states, while California continues to watch from the sidelines.
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Brandon Ristoff is a policy analyst for the California Policy Center.