California's public schools could get $6.6 billion from the state Legislature if they return to in-person instruction by the end of March, according to a new agreement announced Monday between Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state's legislative leaders.
Most of California's public schools have not met in-person since March because of the coronavirus. Many districts have struggled to reach agreements with teachers' unions on the best way to return students and staff to the classroom.
Some Bay Area school districts, including Novato Unified High School District in Marin County, already have begun phasing in students' return to in-person instruction this week. District students in grades 9 and 10 were set to return Monday, and grades 11-12 were scheduled to return March 8. The district's three high schools are Novato High, San Marin High and Marin Oaks High.
Most Marin County elementary and middle schools also are expected to reopen classrooms this week or in the coming weeks.
In West Contra Costa County, parents have been rallying weekly demanding the district reopen. Superintendent Matthew Duffy issued the following statement.
"Today’s news about the Governor and State Legislature reaching a deal on returning to in-person learning is encouraging and a move in the right direction. Students in West Contra Costa County need and deserve in-person learning experiences and, as educators, we want to be leading them in our facilities.
Today’s announcement, plus the encouraging news about prioritizing teachers and school workers for vaccines, are important steps to getting us back to our physical learning environments.
The District has been hosting a series of COVID-19 and School study sessions designed to inform and update us on current conditions and developments through the Board of Education. We hope to work with WCCUSD’s employee partners, families, and the community to develop a plan to get us back to safe in-person learning."
Newsom, who could face a recall election later this year spurred by his handling of the coronavirus, has been at odds with legislative leaders on the best way to encourage school districts to return students to the classroom. California can't order schools to return to in-person instruction, but state officials can offer a lot of money to those that do.
The agreement sets aside $6.6 billion for schools that return to in-person instruction by March 31. The bill is a deal between Newsom, state Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, all Democrats. It was confirmed by Atkins' office. Newsom's office has scheduled a formal announcement for late Monday morning.
The details of the plan are complicated and were confirmed by two state officials with knowledge of the plan who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about it publicly.
California counties are divided up into different coronavirus infection level tiers, with each tier having specific rules about how businesses and other public spaces can operate during the pandemic.
To be eligible for this new money, districts in the most restrictive tier -- known as the purple tier -- must return to in-person instruction at least through second grade, the officials said.
Districts in the next highest tier, the red tier, must return to in-person instruction for all elementary school grades, plus at least one grade in middle and high school, the officials said.
The bill would not require all students and staff to be vaccinated before returning to the classroom. And it would not require districts to get approval from teachers' unions before returning, the officials said.
Testing is required for schools in the purple tier.