All K-12 California schools should be open in the fall for full-time, five-days-a-week, in-person instruction under guidelines released Tuesday by state officials.
Gov. Gavin Newsom stopped short Tuesday of saying this guidance would become a mandate, but added that he is considering additional measures, as necessary, to make sure that schoolchildren are not left behind on June 15, when the state has scheduled a sweeping economic reopening.
Newsom said campuses at all levels, including higher education, should be open. He added this is consistent with his actions to date to reopen classrooms, which have included financial incentives and accelerated vaccinations for school employees.
“I want kids back in school safely for in-person instruction,” the governor said at a news conference in San Francisco. “We’ve made this crystal clear.”
Newsom left open the possibility of more definitive action in coordination with the Legislature, “but there will be no barrier to having our kids back in in-person instruction and that is the expectation.”
He added: “You’ll be hearing more about our efforts to more firmly and foundationally advance that cause.”
The language in the guidelines sets a clear goal: “Schools and institutions of higher education should conduct full-time, in person instruction, in compliance with Cal/OSHA emergency temporary standards and public health guidelines.”
The question of what will happen in the fall has worried parents up and down the state, including in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The nation’s second-largest school system will begin to open campuses gradually next week after more than a year of distance learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The district’s hybrid format will continue to rely heavily on remote instruction.
Elementary-level students will be able to attend classes in person five days a week, but only half-time. Middle and high school students will be able to return to campus, but once there, they will remain in one classroom from which they will continue with their online class schedule, taught by teachers in other locations. Meanwhile, the teacher in the room also will be working online with students in various classrooms.
So far, about 3 in 10 students will be returning, based on survey results. Many families have ongoing safety concerns while others are opting to keep students home based on dissatisfaction with the hybrid plan. One new parents group, California Students United, has been soliciting donations to file a lawsuit to compel the district to provide full-time in-person education. A similar effort met with substantial success in San Diego County.
Still other parents say they are willing to tolerate the hybrid format for the remainder of the current academic year provided that schools reopen fulltime in the fall.
On Tuesday, state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said he shared Newsom’s optimistic outlook but that officials also must meet the needs of parents who are not ready for a return to campus.
“We must prepare for the possibility that there will be some families who cannot or may choose not to send their students back to school campuses this fall, and schools may need the flexibility to offer some form of remote learning,” Thurmond said in a release.
He added: “Returning to in-person instruction must include an urgent focus on addressing opportunity gaps experienced most among students who were already at a disadvantage before the pandemic disrupted learning.”
Thurmond, who has limited authority over school districts, said he has convened a task force “to better understand and identify ways” to help with the academic and emotional needs of students.