SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to announce new guidance for the reopening of California schools Friday, with many of the state’s 1,000 districts just weeks away from returning to school and still undecided on whether to allow students back in classrooms.
Several school districts have already said their schools will begin the new term virtually, including Los Angeles and San Diego, the state’s two largest with a combined population of 720,000 K-12 students. San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Long Beach, Santa Ana and San Bernardino are among the other districts opting not to immediately return to classrooms.
The decisions were made amid growing concern from teachers and parents over the state’s surge of coronavirus cases and uncertainty surrounding the safety of both students and staff on campuses. The state this week reported its second-highest one day totals in infection rates and deaths since the start of the pandemic and more than 7,200 have died.
State officials have placed at least 31 of California’s 58 counties on a watch list because of concerning coronavirus transmission and hospitalization rates. Being on the list puts restrictions on the ability to reopen various segments of the economy.
Earlier this week, Newsom said he had approved new rules on wearing masks, playing sports, singing, busing and “keeping our kids safe and furthering our efforts around distance learning.” His administration did not immediately make those rules public but his office said Newsom would “announce COVID-19 guidance for schools” on Friday.
The decision of whether to reopen rests with local districts and school boards, but Newsom’s administration and the state Department of Education released guidelines in early June for districts to follow when reopening, which include implementing temperature checks for students, remaking activities such as lunch and recess, and recommending cloth face coverings for students and teachers.
“Since we’ve issued our guidance, conditions have changed dramatically,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said during a media briefing Wednesday, adding that he expects more districts will decide to begin the term virtually. “In any place where there is uncertainty, we should proceed with caution. In many cases, that’s going to be opening in distance learning.”
Many small, rural communities argue they shouldn’t have to comply with the same rules as big cities where infection rates are higher. Thurmond indicated Wednesday he agreed.
“We have some counties in this state where the number of cases is actually quite low,” Thurmond said. As long as schools in those counties follow state guidance on hand washing, 6 feet (1.8 meters) of spacing, maintaining physical distance and face coverings, Thurmond said, “we believe that those schools can open safely.”