SARATOGA, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 10: Foothill Elementary School 1st graders study inside the multipurpose room at Foothill Elementary School on Feb. 10, 2021 in Saratoga, Calif. On Wednesday, some students returned to classrooms in the Saratoga Union Elementary District, which includes Foothill Elementary School, for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic forced their closure in March, 2020. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday said the state will begin setting aside 10% of its vaccines for teachers and school staff starting next month in a bid to speed reopening of schools closed since last March by the coronavirus pandemic.
Newsom said 35 counties — many of them in the Bay Area — already have begun vaccinating teachers, and “we want to operationalize that for all 58 counties in the state.”
“We are setting aside 10% of all doses — 7,500 doses every week — that will be set aside for those educators and child care workers,” Newsom said at a news conference at a new mobile vaccine clinic in Hayward. “There’s momentum on reopening schools, and I want to continue that momentum. That’s why we’re setting aside 10% of the vaccines to do precisely that. That is a significant set aside. We think that will substantially address concerns.”
The announcement comes amid a tense tug-of-war over reopening schools between the governor, who may face a recall election in the fall driven in part by parents frustrated over school closures, and his fellow Democrats who control the legislature.
Lawmakers in the state Assembly and Senate unveiled a new legislative deal on school reopening Thursday that would require elementary schools in counties where virus cases have fallen to the second most serious red-tier level to reopen for at least some in-person instruction by April 15. It also would require counties to offer vaccines to teachers who have returned to classrooms to teach in person.
The proposed deal, which also includes an additional $4.6 billion in funding beyond the $2 billion Newsom had promised in December with his Safe Schools for All Plan, drew praise from the California Teachers Association and six of the state’s largest urban school districts, which had criticized the governor’s approach.
But it drew scorn from parent advocates for reopening schools and from Newsom, who said it doesn’t go far enough and would slow the progress of getting kids back in the classroom. Asked about his concerns Friday, Newsom indicated he would veto the legislation in its present form, which could go to a vote next week.
Though the legislative proposal, led by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, sets a firm date and metric by which schools would have to reopen, Newsom said it would mean schools would reopen when counties reach lower virus case levels than called for in his plan, which allows elementary schools to open in the most restrictive purple tier for widespread outbreaks.
“I’ve made it crystal clear: I can’t support something that would delay reopening schools,” Newsom told reporters Friday.
Ting declined comment Friday and referred to a statement Thursday by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood.
“This legislation moves us closer to our common goal of getting each student safely into an optimal learning situation,” Rendon said in his statement. “It provides a plan and it provides funding — both for safe school opening and for extra attention to learning recovery.”
Both the governor and lawmakers insist their proposals are following scientific guidance that indicates schools can safely reopen with staff and students wearing masks, keeping distanced and other measures to reduce the threat of virus outbreaks.
Earlier Friday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stressed that the agency’s recent guidelines allow schools to reopen at any level of virus transmission in their community and at all grades.
“There are opportunities for in-person learning in all states of community spread,” Walensky said. “I’d like schools to lean in and look at what’s needed in the road map to get more children in school.”