Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

School districts will be able to bring back to school small groups of students with disabilities and others with “acute” needs for face-to-face instruction, Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond announced Friday.

The California Department of Public Health will provide details for districts to follow, perhaps next week. All districts will be able to bring small groups of students on campus, including those whose schools cannot currently open because they’re in counties on the state’s watch list for high rates of coronavirus infection, hospitalizations and other criteria, Darling-Hammond said.

The state will move forward with this policy, Newsom said, out of the “recognition that there are kids that will never” be able to adjust to learning online “no matter what kind of support we provide, even if we individualize it.”

Many special education students have suffered during distance learning: students with autism, learning disabilities and emotional conditions as well as those who normally would receive in-person occupational and physical therapy. But large numbers of homeless and migrant students and students in foster care also have been greatly affected.

Some districts have expressed a desire to open up schools to these students, and a few, including Palo Alto Unified, had planned to move ahead. But teachers unions have rejected those plans during negotiations over their working conditions, saying they expose teachers to unsafe conditions. Discussions ended in mid-August, when Newsom and the California Department of Public Health put most of the state’s counties, encompassing more than 90% of the state’s students, on a monitoring list.

An exception is the Marin County Office of Education, which ran programs in the spring and summer for 375 students in 44 cohorts. Those students were in programs for special education, alternative education and pop-up child care centers. In-school services for students with moderate and severe disabilities will resume Sept. 8, regardless of whether the county remains on the monitoring list.

Darling-Hammond said the forthcoming guidance will elaborate on the conditions already in place for day care centers, which have continued to operate in counties on the list. She said the approvals will apply to small groups of students in cohorts that have no contact with other students and follow safety and monitoring requirements. Districts must work with county offices of education on their plans, she said.

Some districts hope to find space for students who lack access to the internet or have no adult at home to supervise remote learning. San Francisco Unified is working through the San Francisco City & County Department of Children, Youth and Their Families on the arrangements. The guidance may cover these students as well, Darling-Hammond said.

Districts would likely have to negotiate with employee unions any plan to reopen schools with small numbers of students and staff. Newsom acknowledged the pressure teachers and paraprofessionals feel between their commitment to their students and the fears they have for their health.

“The overwhelming majority of you got into education for equity purposes, to right wrongs, to address the issue of social mobility and care deeply about learning disabilities and the special needs that many of your students have,” he said.

“Learning is non-negotiable,” he said, “but neither is safety.”

Also at the press conference Friday, Newsom said the state has finished updating its backlog of cases that resulted in a data glitch and required the state to freeze the county monitoring list. Of the approximately 295,000 backlogged lab reports, he said there were 20,000 positive Covid-19 test results, which will be added retroactively to county databases by Monday, when the county monitoring list will be updated. This will allow counties to begin processing elementary school waivers, he said.

EdSource reporter Theresa Harrington contributed to this report.

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  1. Willow J Sanders 5 days ago5 days ago

    My son's special ed school in Santa Rosa has no way of opening under Newsom's mandate. Because he can't be in a classroom with only 2 teachers, his school can't open. Not only can they not open, they were going to open for after-school behavior camp, but with these new rules they couldn't even open for that. This is all just a lie to get people who don't know better to get the warm … Read More

    My son’s special ed school in Santa Rosa has no way of opening under Newsom’s mandate. Because he can’t be in a classroom with only 2 teachers, his school can’t open. Not only can they not open, they were going to open for after-school behavior camp, but with these new rules they couldn’t even open for that. This is all just a lie to get people who don’t know better to get the warm and fuzzy thinking the special ed kids get to be back in school. In Sonoma County none of the schools for special ed are able to open. Because of Newsom.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 5 days ago5 days ago

      Mr. Sanders, this will offer little consolation for what must be a terribly difficult situation, but school districts in most counties have yet to bring special education students back to school in small groups, as legally permitted. At first, the cohort limit of two teachers for 14 students was an impediment, but the guidance issued by the California Department of Public Health has been changed to allow more adults to participate in the small group … Read More

      Mr. Sanders, this will offer little consolation for what must be a terribly difficult situation, but school districts in most counties have yet to bring special education students back to school in small groups, as legally permitted. At first, the cohort limit of two teachers for 14 students was an impediment, but the guidance issued by the California Department of Public Health has been changed to allow more adults to participate in the small group settings. There are other, larger obstacles – creating a safe environments and persuading special education teachers to return, chief among them. Gov. Newsom’s guidance per se is not the problem.

  2. Linda 7 days ago7 days ago

    I feel mandating the most vulnerable students that require the most hands on and up close teaching is ridiculous. I understand that special needs students need specialized teaching but is it worth putting them and school staff and their families at risk of contracting COVID 19? I don’t think so.

  3. Lisa 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I am a special education teacher and I also have cancer. I absolutely understand the need for my students to go back to in-person learning, however, I also fear for my health. I do not have the luxury of staying at home as I have a family to help support.

  4. Thomas bushman 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    If districts don’t want to open, or teachers feel unsafe give, me a voucher and pay for the private schools that do want to open. My son is Autistic and there is a short window for him to gain language skills.

  5. Brooke 1 month ago1 month ago

    Has there been any new news regarding this policy or a timeline on when we can get Special Ed students back in schools? Unless you have a special ed child yourself, you may not understand how critical this is. My son is triggered by Zoom and physically refuses to use it, so that leaves out any distant learning option for us. To address some of the objections or complaints below, I do think parents will … Read More

    Has there been any new news regarding this policy or a timeline on when we can get Special Ed students back in schools? Unless you have a special ed child yourself, you may not understand how critical this is. My son is triggered by Zoom and physically refuses to use it, so that leaves out any distant learning option for us. To address some of the objections or complaints below, I do think parents will help rally to support the financing of PPE supplies, closed schools do have space for very small groups or 1:1 work and they can at least set up outdoor tented spaces for the kids to have well-ventilated areas.

    As a teacher or parents there is always the option to opt-out of this, but for the rest of us willing to take the risk, please, please provide an option for in-person education. This is the only way to learn and prevent psychological trauma for some of our kids. This is especially important to the younger K-2nd grade group.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 1 month ago1 month ago

      Here is the guidance from the California Department of Public Health. Out yesterday afternoon.

  6. Kay 1 month ago1 month ago

    I’m a special ed teacher of mod/severe and autistic students k-2. If we had started in person learning I would have been exposed to COVID on the first day of school as I have a student and family that tested positive. My students will follow none of the safety precautions. They don’t understand they need to cover their mouth when the sneeze and cough. If it’s not safe for regular ed teachers then it definitely … Read More

    I’m a special ed teacher of mod/severe and autistic students k-2. If we had started in person learning I would have been exposed to COVID on the first day of school as I have a student and family that tested positive. My students will follow none of the safety precautions. They don’t understand they need to cover their mouth when the sneeze and cough. If it’s not safe for regular ed teachers then it definitely is not safe for special ed teachers. I will not be returning until it is safe for all teachers to return. Health and safety comes before education.

  7. Christine 1 month ago1 month ago

    When is this going to actually start? My sped director said there’s still no actual guidance issued

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 1 month ago1 month ago

      Christine,
      Your director is correct. The guidance is still not out but is expected any day.

      • Luther 1 month ago1 month ago

        Here is the guidance:
        https://covid19.ca.gov/industry-guidance/#cohort-guidance

        Here is the FAQ:
        https://files.covid19.ca.gov/pdf/guidance-schools-cohort-FAQ.pdf

        None of it explains how you would actually accomplish social distancing with kids in this scenario. Kids with behavioral issues that engage in combative behavior and often intentionally break the rules will never wear a mask all day or maintain 6′ of distance.

        I have one particular student who will intentionally try to contaminate objects.

        Where’s the FAQ for that one?

        • John Fensterwald 1 month ago1 month ago

          Thanks, Luther. It was released yesterday afternoon.

  8. BF 1 month ago1 month ago

    Any update on this??

  9. Amanda H. Hurley 1 month ago1 month ago

    When will the state follow up on this initiative? Let’s get special education students back in school.

  10. amy 1 month ago1 month ago

    Some of you are painting with a very broad brush. My son doesn't put things in his mouth and he happily wears a mask. If teachers agree and students can handle it, then I think schools should be open to sped students. The district must maintain a distance learning option for those that don't wish to return. But for those of us who believe it is safe, whose kids would be safe, … Read More

    Some of you are painting with a very broad brush. My son doesn’t put things in his mouth and he happily wears a mask. If teachers agree and students can handle it, then I think schools should be open to sped students. The district must maintain a distance learning option for those that don’t wish to return. But for those of us who believe it is safe, whose kids would be safe, and whose teachers believe it is safe should be allowed to return to school.

  11. Sue 1 month ago1 month ago

    My grandson really needs in-person school. He is non-verbal autistic, the short time he did get to go to school he was progressing and starting to talk. Since he has been restricted to only home he is regressing and seems depressed. He will follow teacher directions at school but at home when Mom tries to teach using virtual aids he doesn't respond. It is my understanding for autistic children there is a small window to … Read More

    My grandson really needs in-person school. He is non-verbal autistic, the short
    time he did get to go to school he was progressing and starting to talk. Since he has been restricted to only home he is regressing and seems depressed. He will follow teacher directions at school but at home when Mom tries to teach using virtual aids he doesn’t respond. It is my understanding for autistic children there is a small window to get then to the point that he can attend regular school. This is a vital time for him and it is my sincere hope that our district complies.

  12. BF 1 month ago1 month ago

    Is there an update on this, or are we still waiting on an update from the State?

  13. Tear 1 month ago1 month ago

    As someone with a severe special needs child, I want to address some comments and concerns on here. Some one brought up the fact that the children stick everything in their mouths. Yes, they do and I'm certain the staff cleans and sanitizes regularly even before the pandemic. So, I don't see any difference in their hygienic procedure going forward except it being even more rigorous. I never sent my son to school if … Read More

    As someone with a severe special needs child, I want to address some comments and concerns on here. Some one brought up the fact that the children stick everything in their mouths. Yes, they do and I’m certain the staff cleans and sanitizes regularly even before the pandemic. So, I don’t see any difference in their hygienic procedure going forward except it being even more rigorous. I never sent my son to school if he had a fever, running nose, or cough because eventually common cold cold be detrimental to some of these children. Nor did the teachers go to school displaying even the slightest symptoms. That and also, it’s against his schools policy. If and only if the school is properly staffed with safety measures put in place, do I agree with this. Luckily my son’s school is, where we currently live. When I lived in L.A. county, it really wasn’t. But with all able bodied and minded students not attending school…I’m sure they can make the proper accommodations with all the extra rooms available to them. As for the teachers, if they don’t feel safe then it should be their choice to not resume in-person classes. But there are some teachers out there who disagree and would like to return back to class. Yes, there is quite a bit I can do with my son but I’m not a qualified special education teacher. His quality of learning will great differ along with his social skills. These children rely on sensible adults to do their parts (i.e. masks, cleaning, washing hands…) so that they can learn in a safe environment. So if you have no trust that your child’s school can do that AFTER they’ve proposed reopening plans, than you as the parent have the choice. So it all falls down to 1. choice of the parents 2. choice of the teachers.

    Replies

    • Jennifer 1 month ago1 month ago

      Many schools do NOT have safety measures in place. You must be in an affluent or middle income district. Do you think low SES districts who are already in enormous budget deficits are able to provide PPE? No, no they are not. Do you think school structures are well ventilated in low SES districts? Do you think it’s possible to keep 6 ft of distance in tiny, windowless, non-ventilated therapy rooms? Special educators and … Read More

      Many schools do NOT have safety measures in place. You must be in an affluent or middle income district. Do you think low SES districts who are already in enormous budget deficits are able to provide PPE? No, no they are not. Do you think school structures are well ventilated in low SES districts? Do you think it’s possible to keep 6 ft of distance in tiny, windowless, non-ventilated therapy rooms? Special educators and providers are NOT your sacrificial lambs. Their lives are JUST as important as your kids. And they are doing ALL that they can to support your child during this global pandemic.

  14. Debbra Rowlett 1 month ago1 month ago

    It is ludicrous that special needs children/teens are not allowed back into empty schools with large available open classrooms. These are essential services and life long, life savings services. These children/teens can be prescreened on a daily basis and teachers/aids can be COVID tested weekly to ensure an infection free environment. N95 masks may be required for the teachers since they are in such fear of contracting COVID and daily temperatures taken of everyone. Prison … Read More

    It is ludicrous that special needs children/teens are not allowed back into empty schools with large available open classrooms. These are essential services and life long, life savings services. These children/teens can be prescreened on a daily basis and teachers/aids can be COVID tested weekly to ensure an infection free environment. N95 masks may be required for the teachers since they are in such fear of contracting COVID and daily temperatures taken of everyone. Prison employees are required to work in the prisons so that inmates are given essential services to include food sales, but special needs children/teens can not receive appropriate educational services. I don’t want to complain, I want every special needs parents to put our resources together and put an emergency class action law suit together against Gavin Newsom (State of California) for violating our children’s rights.

    Replies

    • Christin 1 month ago1 month ago

      There’s already a lawsuit put forth by mom of 2 autistic boys. Her name is Christina Ruiz. Google it. I’m trying to hold out hope that my SD will do the right thing for my 6 years old severe needs son so he can continue his 1st grade in person. His class has 4 FOUR kids in it. And I work in health care so unfortunately I can’t even take a FMLA if I wanted to. It’s so tough

  15. Robert 1 month ago1 month ago

    As a parent of two SPED kids who are typically called high-functioning, I’d absolutely refuse to have them back in a school environment where hygiene is an issue. I would err on the side of safety vs receiving in-person services. I can’t imagine the dilemma for both parents and teachers for more severe cases where in-person services are a must.

  16. Judith McKnight 1 month ago1 month ago

    As a retired Resource Specialist and regular classroom teacher, I am aware of the intricacies and challenges of teaching in a manner to insure learning under the best and most demanding circumstances. To insure learning one must have a grasp of many skills all administered in a proper and encouraging manner! To accomplish this requires 1:1 attention and cooperation between the learner and the teacher! In my judgement, it would be wise … Read More

    As a retired Resource Specialist and regular classroom teacher, I am aware of the intricacies and challenges of teaching in a manner to insure learning under the best and most demanding circumstances. To insure learning one must have a grasp of many skills all administered in a proper and encouraging manner! To accomplish this requires 1:1 attention and cooperation between the learner and the teacher! In my judgement, it would be wise to encourage retired teachers to return to assist students in a manner prescribed as home: hospital teaching. Experienced Resource Specialists could return teaching to help relieve the teaching needs for special needs students.

  17. Cathy 1 month ago1 month ago

    Robin, I'd like to remind you that the Special Ed teachers do have an idea – a very clear idea – of what special needs students require. The bottom line is: Many of these students are unable to physically distance from teachers. Why would you place Special Ed teachers at risk, because your at-home educational experience with your child is challenging? I'd hope that the last few months would have inspired every special needs parent … Read More

    Robin, I’d like to remind you that the Special Ed teachers do have an idea – a very clear idea – of what special needs students require. The bottom line is: Many of these students are unable to physically distance from teachers. Why would you place Special Ed teachers at risk, because your at-home educational experience with your child is challenging? I’d hope that the last few months would have inspired every special needs parent to have more appreciation for these amazing teachers! They are superheroes and should not be mandated into risky, potentially life threatening situations because your special needs child is challenging. They’ve spent their lives devoted to rising to the challenge. We should be acting with that fact in the forefront of every decision.

    Replies

    • gabrielle rivers 1 month ago1 month ago

      I'm a nurse working directly with COVID patients. You are lucky you've had practically the entire year off, if you're a teacher and don't feel safe, then don't teach. Just as I would quit being a nurse if I didn't feel safe. For those exceptional teachers who want to go back to the classroom and teach these special ed kiddos!! Thank you, thank you! The YMCA is open 7:30-3:30 full of students on Zoom, this … Read More

      I’m a nurse working directly with COVID patients. You are lucky you’ve had practically the entire year off, if you’re a teacher and don’t feel safe, then don’t teach. Just as I would quit being a nurse if I didn’t feel safe. For those exceptional teachers who want to go back to the classroom and teach these special ed kiddos!! Thank you, thank you! The YMCA is open 7:30-3:30 full of students on Zoom, this isn’t about safety.

      • kristy sharp 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

        I agree 100%! I'm an RN and our hospital has had no children having to be admitted with covid. This is so tragic, when you see what it's doing to our youth filling up the ERs with suicide attempts/mental health issues. It's also wrong to expect the parents to do the teaching job, without putting them on the payroll. I would gladly teach the special ed children, if I wasn't an RN. I don't have … Read More

        I agree 100%! I’m an RN and our hospital has had no children having to be admitted with covid. This is so tragic, when you see what it’s doing to our youth filling up the ERs with suicide attempts/mental health issues. It’s also wrong to expect the parents to do the teaching job, without putting them on the payroll. I would gladly teach the special ed children, if I wasn’t an RN. I don’t have a choice. I’d also be fine without making them wear masks.

        As long as you are in a mask and hand washing, you are fine. If you are terrified, then find a new profession that requires no contact with people.

        There’s plenty of teachers that are working in private homes now who would work. Replace them. If the nurses had this attitude, who would be taking care of the few that do get very sick from this?

      • kkv 2 days ago2 days ago

        Just because you’re a nurse and you’re feeling a type of way is no reason to apply your situation to teachers. People in health care signed up to work around viruses. Teachers did not and are not compensated nearly as much as nurses. psh!

  18. Robin Newberger 1 month ago1 month ago

    For those people here who are against this idea, and don’t have a child with special needs, you have no idea what it has been like for those of us who do. We cannot continue living like this, period. Our school district was one of the only ones who did a pilot program this summer for four weeks. All safety protocols were followed. It worked. No one got sick. People, stop living in fear.

    Replies

    • Carletta Kay 1 month ago1 month ago

      If your special needs child was able to return to school and easily follow all precautions along with their peers, I am assuming they are high-functioning. For those of us who work with severe students, the prospect of bringing them back to campus amidst rising cases and an approaching cold/flu season is utterly terrifying. The students we work with do not wear masks, wash their hands or have even a general awareness of their self-hygiene. … Read More

      If your special needs child was able to return to school and easily follow all precautions along with their peers, I am assuming they are high-functioning.

      For those of us who work with severe students, the prospect of bringing them back to campus amidst rising cases and an approaching cold/flu season is utterly terrifying. The students we work with do not wear masks, wash their hands or have even a general awareness of their self-hygiene. Many will cough without covering their mouth, spewing mucus everywhere, boogers streaming down their faces. Many of these kids have trouble just staying in their seat, much less practicing social distancing. Most require direct physical assistance to eat and use the bathroom. This is a very high-risk situation for everyone involved, but particularly our students who are medically fragile as well as our teachers and classroom aides, many of whom are older.

      Everyone is suffering as a result of the pandemic. The virus does not discriminate. It is detrimental to keep special needs students at home but equally devastating to bring them back and put everyone involved into such a precarious situation. The news on schools that have reopened has not been promising. In my mind, the only logical thing to do is to increase the standards of distance learning and bring kids back once there is a vaccine available. It is not ideal, but the damage of a year of a distance learning is nothing compared to what will happen if the schools open prematurely.

    • BG 1 month ago1 month ago

      I'm an SLP who has worked with children with autism on a daily basis for the last 15 years. I strongly feel we need to go back to school/work and move on with life. Corona will never entirely disappear. Life needs to go on. There has only been 1 older child (with other health needs) who has died of CoVid 19 in CA. It's time to go back to work and do what we what … Read More

      I’m an SLP who has worked with children with autism on a daily basis for the last 15 years. I strongly feel we need to go back to school/work and move on with life. Corona will never entirely disappear. Life needs to go on. There has only been 1 older child (with other health needs) who has died of CoVid 19 in CA. It’s time to go back to work and do what we what we’re good at. These kids and families really need our help. The online platform does not work for our kids. At some point we have to say “enough”.

      • Christin 1 month ago1 month ago

        Thank you for your comment. My SLP started some in person, so did Kaiser. My son has his first therapy w OT and Pt last week. It can be done. It’s hard and everyone needs to be extra vigilant but it can be done. School district isn’t reopening because it’s politics and teachers union hold too much power

    • kkv 2 days ago2 days ago

      You’re a parent, I’m a special ed teacher and you also have no idea what we go through. Difference is, they are your family, not mine.

  19. Demetrio 1 month ago1 month ago

    It’s obvious Newsom is improvising and wants to deflect parents’ ire. Oh, if you get sick, too bad.

  20. Adam Hampton 1 month ago1 month ago

    Terrible idea. Health and safety should be our guidelines. It’s a slippery slope from here with all sorts of exceptional groups clamoring for carveouts. COVID doesn’t care who you are or what group you belong to. We all have to do the best we can with what we have right now – this is a pandemic. Not flu season. A pandemic. A viral pandemic.

    Replies

    • Christin 1 month ago1 month ago

      Very well aware that it’s a pandemic. Been working in health care since March without a day off, or “heroes pay”. Working in poorly ventilated space of 15 by 10 with 2-4 other people, serving 200+ strangers every single day. So don’t tell me it’s scary. I’m living it everyday as an essential worker. I know the logistics of opening in-person will be a challenge but you can’t honestly say that 1:1 or 1:2 with … Read More

      Very well aware that it’s a pandemic. Been working in health care since March without a day off, or “heroes pay”. Working in poorly ventilated space of 15 by 10 with 2-4 other people, serving 200+ strangers every single day. So don’t tell me it’s scary. I’m living it everyday as an essential worker. I know the logistics of opening in-person will be a challenge but you can’t honestly say that 1:1 or 1:2 with proper PPE, outside with fresh air, is still scary. I mean honestly!

  21. Jay 1 month ago1 month ago

    This is literally the worst idea ever. I work in SPED and there are huge concerns with hygiene under normal conditions. Many severely handicapped kids put classroom objects in their mouths, are not able to independently wash hands, drool, etc. These kids are not able to wear masks. I guess we just don’t care about staff? Where are the “all lives matter” folks? This will be a disaster.

    Replies

    • Demetrio 1 month ago1 month ago

      All lives matter? Be careful or the BLM/anarchist crowd will cancel you.

  22. Charlie Alamo 1 month ago1 month ago

    God, I hope this is true and Gustine Unified applies for this. Our 3 Special Day Class (SDC) teachers would much rather teach in person.

  23. Shannon 1 month ago1 month ago

    I hope the districts don't approve it! It's the worst for teacher and staff! Usually we have many problems with sped kiddos for washing hand and not covering mouth when they sneeze or cough! Now they want to send them back to school! So ridiculous! Who cares about teachers and staff?! Okay, if you want to open it for sped , then you have to consider some benefits for teachers and staff since they are … Read More

    I hope the districts don’t approve it! It’s the worst for teacher and staff! Usually we have many problems with sped kiddos for washing hand and not covering mouth when they sneeze or cough! Now they want to send them back to school! So ridiculous! Who cares about teachers and staff?! Okay, if you want to open it for sped , then you have to consider some benefits for teachers and staff since they are in high risk!! Hope not be approved at this moment!!

  24. James Lynett 1 month ago1 month ago

    Wow didn’t we go down this road in May with bars and restaurants! Do we have collective amnesia? Many of these SPED kids have underlying conditions and what about teachers and staff? Testing, testing testing and we “can’t” do it but we can send you all back into an environment where there are asymptomatic carriers. What is wrong with this country?