Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration said Wednesday that all California schools should reopen when the new academic year begins next fall, though his guidelines remain merely an expectation rather than a mandate.
Facing political pressure and a recall effort, Newsom has said he plans to lift most of California’s coronavirus restrictions June 15 as part of reopening the state to business-as-usual. Earlier this month, he made a similar pronouncement, but many districts and teachers remain reluctant.
Newsom has repeatedly said he sees no barriers to getting kids back into classrooms now, as California’s COVID-19 infections continue to drop and more residents get vaccinated. His administration reiterated that push on Wednesday, ahead of a visit to an elementary school in Santa Rosa.
“If current trends and best practices continue, the next school year can begin with offering full in-person instruction to all students,” the California Department of Health said in a presentation Wednesday that focused on school reopening. It specified that schools should plan to offer full days of instruction, five days a week.
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That’s a far cry from the current situation in California, where many schools have reopened classrooms part-time with a mix of in-person and at-home learning. Many district officials and teachers are reluctant to return. And it remains unclear if all 6.2 million public school students will be back in classrooms this year or at the start of the next school year.
Newsom’s new recommendations include no requirement for schools to reopen — as in some other states, including the Democratic-led states of Oregon and Washington — in part because of the outsized political power of the state’s teachers unions. Newsom has made it clear he will not order classrooms to open, but has dangled financial incentives and prioritized getting vaccines for educators.
Some of California’s largest school districts are welcoming students back for in-person learning this week, including the two biggest, Los Angeles and San Diego. But even with schools able to open, only 62% of elementary school students and not quite 40% of older students have the option to return, according to a tracker maintained by the Los Angeles Times.
Even in districts with in-class options, parents have complained of inadequate time as some offer just a few hours of instruction per week, primarily for younger students.
School officials say parents in communities hardest hit by the pandemic are opting to keep their children in distance learning, citing health and safety concerns.