LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Southern California campuses won’t reopen for the first day of school because Gov. Gavin Newsom handed down new guidelines Friday, ordering schools to stay closed in counties on the state’s COVID-19 watch list.
Thirty-two counties are on the state’s watch list, including Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura. All schools, public and private, in those counties must begin the 2020-21 school year with distance learning.
“If we do all the precautions they were asking, I feel like that’s safe,” Carol Tober, an Orange County teacher said in reaction to the closure order. “In the spring we did the online learning, and we tried really hard to get every child online. We gave them all a computer and everything, and I had nine kids out of 28 not do anything, and those are the kids that really needed my help.”
Newsom acknowledged that in-class instruction is preferred by students, teachers, staff and parents.
“Learning remains non-negotiable, but neither is the safety of all of our cohorts of support staff as well as our children,” Newsom said.
Newsom says counties must be off the state’s monitoring list for 14 consecutive days before public and private schools can physically reopen.
For counties that can reopen schools this fall, they must follow strict new guidelines. Students in 3rd grade and higher will be required to wear masks, along with teachers and staff. Second-grade students and younger will be “strongly encouraged” to wear face coverings, including face shields. Teachers will undergo regular testing, and schools must implement safety measures like physical distancing between teachers and students, regular symptom checks at the start of the day, and more frequent hand washing and disinfecting of common areas.
Under the guidelines, one confirmed case of coronavirus will send a class home, but a school will not close unless multiple classes have confirmed cases or 5% of the school is positive. A district will be shut down if 25% of schools are closed within two weeks.
“The one thing we have the power to do to get our kids back into school is look at this list again,” Newsom said. “Wear a mask, physically distance, wash your hands, minimize the mixing. The more we do on this list and we do it at scale, the quicker all those counties are gonna come off that monitoring list, we are going to mitigate the spread of this virus, and those kids are back in school.”
Schools that must remain closed will still be required to conduct “rigorous” distance learning. Newsom’s guidelines urged daily, live interaction with teachers and other students, challenging assignments equivalent to what students would receive in the classroom, and curriculum keeping English learners, special needs students, and those who are homeless or are in foster care in mind. To support the continuation of distance learning across the state, Newsom said the state Legislature had approved a $5.3 billion package to address educational equity, but it wasn’t clear if any of those funds would go toward the 2020-21 school year.
Newsom also reported 9,986 new cases of COVID-19, with a 7-day average of 8,838. He said the positivity rate of 7.4% was down modestly, but the hospitalization rate had gone up 22% over a two-week period.
Several school districts in Southern California had already announced they would start out the year remotely, including LAUSD, San Diego, Pasadena, Glendale, Long Beach, Santa Ana, and most school districts in Ventura County.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of LA County’s Department of Public Health, said the decision was disheartening and unfortunate, but understandable considering grim milestones reached every day this week, including the most cases in a single day, the most hospitalizations and high death numbers.
“I know this is difficult news for the children and families of Los Angeles County, and we will need to work together as a county to support quality distance learning opportunities for families and all children until students can get back to in-person instruction at their schools,” Dr. Ferrer said.
However, several parents were on hand to support the Orange County Board of Education as it voted to allow in-person instruction without any coronavirus safety regulations, a ruling that was not binding and allowed for individual districts — like Santa Ana — to make their own decision on reopening. Orange County, which is also on the state’s monitoring list, will not be able to reopen schools under Newsom’s guidelines.