Newsom

Gov. Gavin Newsom this week announced a framework to encourage more public schools to return to in-person instruction, beginning with the state’s youngest students.

Citing evidence of lower risk from COVID-19 for students and the importance of in-person instruction, Newsom said the state’s Safe Schools for All plan would focus on creating safe learning environments for students and safe workplaces for educators and other school staff.

“As a father of four, I know firsthand what parents, educators and pediatricians continue to say: in-person is the best setting to meet not only the learning needs, but the mental health and social-emotional needs of our kids,” Newsom said.

While Newsom said components of the plan would be rolled out in the coming weeks, he said the primary strategy would be a gradual return to in-person instruction beginning with transitional kindergarten through the second grade. Other grade levels will be phased in through the spring.

“In the midst of this pandemic, my administration is focused on getting students back into the classroom in a way that leads with student and teacher health,” Newsom said. “It’s especially important for our youngest kids, those with disabilities, those with limited access to technology at home, and those who have struggled more than most with distance learning.”

Distance learning, however, will remain an option for parents and students who choose it, Newsom said, and for students whose health does not allow them to return to school in the near term.

Newsom said he would send an early-action package to the Legislature next month to ensure schools have the resources to implement safety precautions and mitigation measures, including $2 billion for COVID-19 testing, school ventilation, and personal protective equipment.

He also appointed Dr. Naomi Bardach, a pediatrician at the University of California, San Francisco and considered an expert on school safety, to lead the effort with help from the state Department of Public Health, Cal/OSHA, and educational agencies.

The framework for the Safe Schools for All program calls for 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.

The state will also create an on-line “dashboard” showing every school’s reopening status, level of available funding, and data on school outbreaks.