California Offers Schools $2B Incentive to Resume In-Person Learning

Students at private schools have an advantage over public school students. | File Photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News

Teachers reluctant to go back to class

By Terry Miller

The plight of California public schools’ reopening had a few rays of sunshine this week when Governor Gavin Newson and the Legislature announced an agreement that on a $6.6 billion budget package aimed at getting kids back to school by the end of the month. However, it’s not a cake walk for parents, teachers and local districts.

California school districts are locally controlled and though the state can’t force them to reopen, it can incentivize them with additional funds. Public schools throughout the state will be allocated $6.6 billion under the proposed budget package: $2 billion would fund safety measures — such as personal protective equipment, ventilation upgrades and COVID-19 testing — and $4.6 billion would fund expanded learning opportunities, such as summer school, tutoring and mental health services.

To receive a share of the $2 billion, all public schools would be required to offer in-person instruction to grades kindergarten through second grade for all students and for high-needs students in all grades by the end of the month, losing 1% of eligible funds every day thereafter if they do not. Schools in the state’s Red Tier or better would be required to offer in-person instruction to all students in all elementary grades and at least one middle or high school grade, or risk the same penalty.

“We expect all of our transitional kindergarten to grade two classrooms open within the next month,” Newsom said Monday. “And our core belief is this: Once you dip your toe in … once you build trust, then we will start to see a cadence of reopening across the spectrum,” Newsom said Monday.

Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “Access to vaccination should not be considered a condition for reopening schools for in-person instruction,” Newsom said Monday that 75,000 vaccine doses have been set aside for California educators, but avoided questions about how many COVID-19 cases there may be at schools that have been operating in person classes. The package deal also codifies his commitment to set aside 10% of vaccines for education workers.

“A safe return of kids to the classroom is on the wish list of countless California families, and Governor Newsom’s Safe Schools for All Plan paves the way. The plan is rooted in science, health and safety – all key tenets to any conversation about returning to in-person instruction,” said California State PTA President Celia Jaffe.

Many teachers are vehemently opposed to returning to the classroom, with or without vaccines. The California Teachers Association has expressed concerns about safety.

“From day one, our priority has been the safety of our students, their families, educators and school staff,” said C.T.A. President E. Toby Boyd. “Today’s proposed agreement includes the multi-tiered safety measures educators have been calling for. It recognizes community transmission rates and the importance of prioritizing educators for the COVID-19 vaccine before reopening for in-person instruction.”

Boyd, however, did criticize the deal for only requiring COVID-19 testing in schools located in the Purple Tier. “We appreciate the legislation requiring testing for schools with high community transmission rates, but will continue to support robust testing programs as outlined and clearly stated in the [California Department of Public Health] guidance.”

Newsom conceded that negotiations may still need to take place with teachers’ unions and others.

The organization Save California Students NOW sent a letter to Pasadena Unified and City Council Monday night expressing concern about the lack of decisions with schools’ reopening in the state:

“’California’s children have now spent one year away from their classrooms — precious time sacrificed in the name of public health. This lack of social interaction for our kids has caused an increase in mental health breakdowns and suicide attempts, weight gain from lack of physical activity and excessive screen time, a general lack of motivation, and overall stunted developmental gains. They have lost a year of learning, socialization, and well-being, along with the safety of daily interaction with educators trained to recognize signs of child abuse,’ Dr. Peggy Legault, wrote to Pasadena City Council back in October of 2020. The negative effects of online school are dramatic. We see depression due to lack of human contact, poor sleeping habits, poor school performance due to lack of interaction and support. Kids can’t wait any longer to return to school and the fact our city is getting close to the red tier, along with having vaccinated 30,000 residents, should mean we start to prioritize kids and get them the help they need.”

Increasingly exasperated that most public schools remain closed even as coronavirus cases plummet nearly a year into the pandemic, some California parents are taking to the streets in many cities.

Locally, parents of Arcadia Unified School District students plan a peacefully rally for Thursday, March 4 at noon at Arcadia County Park to address Arcadia’s reopening plan. One of the organizers and parent, Lena Wiegand, told Beacon Media that the event was pushed to Thursday due to potential rain on Wednesday.

“We are asking for an option for elementary students to return to school before the end of the school year for those who are interested. We are asking for a detailed plan for how to reopen after teachers are vaccinated. We want our teachers to be vaccinated and expect the school district to do everything in their power to expedite this,” she said.

The event details can be found on the Arcadia Facebook webpage and on the AUSD Safe Reopening Facebook page.

March 2, 2021

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Terry Miller

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