Q: Are all schools in California closed?
A: All schools closed through the end of the 2019-20 school year as far as providing regular classroom instruction. However, many schools are offering summer school, mostly through distance learning, as well as school meals.
Q: What challenges do schools face to delivering online learning to all students?
California needs at least 708,400 laptops and 322,100 Wi-Fi hotspots to connect all students to the internet from home, according to data from the California Department of Education shared with EdSource on June 17.
To fill those gaps, the California Department of Education launched a statewide task force focused on connecting students with technology at home and created the California Bridging the Digital Divide Fund to collect donations of funds and technology to students in preschool through 12th grade. Individual contributions can be made through the GoFundMe campaign. Institutional and corporate donors are invited to contact Mary Nicely at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some students who received the free devices had trouble connecting. In Los Angeles, students have reported slow and unreliable internet and other challenges with sharing devices at home among siblings, while some rural areas without cell reception were unable to use the mobile WiFi devices at all.
Even with the devices that have been delivered, California still needs at least $500 million to fill the latest estimated need for home computers and internet access for K-12 students, California Department of Education stated in a June 22 press release.
Q: How long will schools be closed for in-person instruction?
A: That is still unclear. Some districts including Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified are offering virtual summer classes to help students catch up on what they have missed. San Diego Unified plans to offer limited in-person summer school courses, according to a survey conducted by the Center for Reinventing Public Education.
Q. What plans are being made for California schools to reopen?
There is a widespread expectation that schools will reopen in the fall, but it is far from clear whether they will reopen in the same way they were operating previously. Most districts are still in the process of finalizing plans for reopening based on state and county guidance, as well as state law.
This fall, schools are being told to “offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible” according to AB-77, the education trailer bill accompanying the 2020-21 budget. Schools can offer distance learning if ordered by a state or local health official, or for students who are medically at-risk or are self-quarantining because of exposure to Covid-19.
On June 8, California released updated guidelines for reopening schools that recommend limiting the number of students physically on campus at the same time and considering strategies such as hybrid learning models where students participate in a mix of in-person and online classes. So far, it appears many districts in California are headed towards a hybrid model.
The latest distance learning rules in AB-77 also require teachers to confirm that students have the necessary technology at home to participate in distance learning. Teachers participating in distance learning will also be expected to interact with students live daily to teach, monitor progress and maintain personal connections. The bill also instructs teachers to communicate with parents about student learning progress.
Additional requirements for distance learning outlined in the trailer bill include setting procedures for re-engaging students who are absent for more than 60% of instruction per week and providing academic supports for English learners and students who have fallen behind in their academic progress. Progress can be assessed through a variety of ways including evidence of online activities, assignment completion and contact between school staff and students or their parents.
According to the new statewide guidance, students should expect to wash their hands and have their temperature taken often. They will likely wear masks and only attend classes a few days a week with a small group of classmates. Signs and taped marks on the floor will tell them which direction to walk and where to stand in hallways and in the cafeteria.
Ultimately, school district officials will decide how to reopen campuses, according to the guidance, which offers sweeping recommendations about everything from keeping students and staff safe while at school to the types of instructional models that school districts should consider to maintain social distancing.
Q: Since Gov. Newsom issued an executive order ordering Californians to “stay at home” in March, he has begun loosening those restrictions in phases. What does that mean for parents and children?
A: Initially, Californians were urged to leave home only for groceries, prescriptions, exercise or other “essential” business or activities and to stay at least 6 feet apart. Newsom’s order did not specify an end date.
However, he released a report card on May 4 that outlined four phases for reopening some businesses with modifications in phase 2, which began May 8 and did not include schools. On May 13, he announced that several counties had met criteria for reopening additional businesses with modifications. These can include K-12 schools, but not higher education. The guidance for schools was released June 5.
On June 18, the state began requiring that people wear face masks outside their homes in most settings, except for children ages 2 and under and those with certain medical conditions.
Phase 3 will include higher education and phase 4 will include large gatherings such as sporting events.
Q: Can school children and their parents or guardians still pick up school meals?
A: Schools have provided millions of “grab and go” meals to students since campuses closed. Most are continuing or even expanding food distribution during the summer. Though each district has a different distribution system in place, in most cases students or their parents can travel by foot, bike, car or public transit to pick up the meals. Some districts like Oakland Unified open a few days a week and allow people to pick up enough meals for several days, while others like Los Angeles Unified offer daily meal distribution. Several districts have partnered with food banks and other organizations to provide families with groceries and supplies in addition to meals for students.
Gov. Newsom’s “Stay at Home” Executive Order, March 19, 2020.
Gov. Newsom’s Executive Order for Closed Schools, March 13, 2020.
Guidance for Schools, California Dept. of Education.
For the latest developments in education, go here.
Q: What are schools supposed to offer parents and children in 2020-21?
A: California schools will continue to be required to provide 180 days of instruction per year (175 days for charter schools). However, the minimum number of instructional minutes will be reduced, in an effort to offer teachers more flexibility during distance learning.
The typical minimum number of instructional minutes per day varies by grade: 200 for kindergarten, 280 for grades 1 to 3; 300 for grades 4 to 8 and 360 for high school. For the 2020-21 school year, the daily requirements will drop to 180 minutes for kindergarten, 230 for grades 1 to 3 and 240 for grades 4 to 12.
The state has created a coronavirus website at www.covid19.ca.gov with an education page that includes links to guidance for K-12 schools and colleges and universities, as well as links to other resources for families and educators. The California Department of Education is also updating parents regarding resources and other information in newsletters here.
Q: What about grading students’ work?
A: It is up to local districts to decide whether or not to issue grades, but most will at the very least grade students using pass/no pass or credit/no credit. Due to the coronavirus, the California State University and the University of California agreed to accept credit/no credit or pass/fail for courses taken in 2019-20, including the A-G course sequence needed for admission, with no impact to Grade Point Averages. The California Department of Education has released guidance on grading and graduation requirements here. Here’s an EdSource Quick Guide on grading.
Q: Will teachers take attendance in 2020-21?
A: California bases funding to schools on average daily attendance, but districts won’t lose money if some students don’t participate in distance learning. However, schools will still be required to track and report student participation.
Q: Will students still be required to take the state’s standardized Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts in grades 3-8 and 11 take in spring 2021?
A: No decision has been made yet. On March 18, Newsom signed an emergency order suspending standardized testing for the 2019-20 school year, meaning students in grades 3-8 and 11 were not required to take Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts last spring. The U.S. Department of Education gave the state preliminary approval to waive standardized testing for this school year and the requirement to include the test data that would have been produced in the state’s school accountability system, the California School Dashboard. The waived tests included the Smarter Balanced and science tests that assess the Next Generation Science Standards, and the English Language Proficiency Assessments for California for English learners.
Q: What about Advanced Placement tests, SAT and ACT tests?
A: Shortened versions of Advanced Placement exams were administered online in May and early June. A small number of students are eligible for exception testing in late June. The 45-minute tests, which are accessible by iPhones, are open-book and only include written responses, with no multiple choice questions. Security measures including anti-plagiarism software are expected to discourage cheating.
AP test takers can earn college credit if they score high enough on the AP exams, which are offered in 38 subjects including biology, U.S. history and Spanish.
Both the SAT and ACT are preparing online, at-home versions of those important tests for possible widespread use in the fall if schools and testing sites don’t reopen.
ACT canceled its April 4 national ACT test date but expects to hold exam sessions in June, July, September, October and December, depending on when schools reopen. All students who were registered for a now canceled test will receive an email with instructions for next steps. Additional test dates and other information is available at www.ACT.org.
The College Board canceled its May and June SAT administrations. Registered students may receive refunds or can get priority access to reschedule their dates. If stay-at-home rules are lifted, in-person SAT exams will start up again August 29 and a September date will be added to the schedule of tests in October, November and December. Students can obtain access to free online prep resources at https://www.khanacademy.org/sat.
However, both the University of California system and CSU systems have suspended admission requirements for SAT or ACT tests for the class of 2021 and the UC system decided in May to abandon the SAT and ACT exams as a freshman admission requirement and to develop its own substitute standardized test by 2025.
Q: If school is closed, can parents still arrange playdates for their children, or have groups of children together to do homework?
A: Limiting social interactions for children with their friends is tough, but under the statewide order to “stay home,” children can not visit in their friends homes and the order specifies that babysitters or other caregivers can visit other homes but with precautions for social distancing and hand washing. The symptoms of the coronavirus can take days to show up, and people can be contagious even if they do not yet have symptoms. Also, each additional child has other circles of contacts — their family and the people their family is in touch with. “Even if you choose only one friend to have over, you are creating new links and possibilities for the type of transmission that all of our school/work/public event closures are trying to prevent,” writes Dr. Asaf Bitton, a primary care physician and public health expert, in an opinion published on Medium.
In lieu of in-person playdates, some families are setting up video playdates for their kids, and encouraging them to write letters or emails to other family members or friends.
However, individual counties including Alameda and Contra Costa are allowing small groups called “social bubbles” to gather. According to Alameda County guidance, a social bubble must not have more than 12 individuals and can be comprised of a combination of ideally two or three households, but those in the social bubble must not participate in more than one social bubble in a three-week period. The social bubble must gather outdoors such as in a park or a backyard. Face coverings may be removed when eating or drinking and social bubbles must stay at least six feet away from other social bubbles.
Q: Can I still send my child to daycare or preschool? What about hiring a nanny or babysitter?
The best way to help contain the spread of the coronavirus is to keep your child home. However, on June 5, the state issued updated guidelines for childcare centers, as various sectors in the state began to reopen. The state also issued “Support for Working Families” guidance with additional information related to childcare and other resources.
Q: Have any California schoolchildren or teachers been diagnosed with the coronavirus?
A: Yes. Of the 200,461 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state as of June 26, 15,449 were children ages 0-17, 112,547 were adults between the ages of 18 and 49, 42,721 were adults between 50 and 64, 29,544 were adults 65 or older, and 200 were people whose ages were not known. Of the 5,812 deaths due to the virus, one was a 17-year-old boy who lived in Lancaster, in Los Angeles County. However, that case was being further evaluated to determine whether there was an alternative cause of death. Details about which school he may have attended were not released.
Two K-12 students and one substitute teacher were publicly identified as testing positive for the virus before schools closed throughout the state. The students attended an elementary school in Elk Grove Unified and a private Catholic school operated by the San Francisco Archdiocese. The substitute teacher, who died March 15, worked in the Sacramento Unified School District.
Q: What are the symptoms of the coronavirus and what should parents or guardians do if their child develops them?
A: The symptoms of the coronavirus are similar in children and adults and can be mild or severe. Those symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, shortness of breath and sometimes vomiting or diarrhea.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, children do not seem to be at higher risk of getting the coronavirus although some children and infants have been sick with the disease and one has died in California. Older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like lung disease, diabetes or suppressed immune systems are at higher risk of contracting the virus and possibly dying.
The CDC recommends contacting a healthcare provider for medical advice if you think you or your children have been exposed and have any of the symptoms. The CDC has also released additional tips to help keep children healthy while school is out that include suggested routines for continuing children’s education at home.
Information about testing sites and other resources is available on the state’s website.
Q: Especially now that most schools are closed indefinitely, what should I tell my child about the virus?
A: The Centers for Disease Control has a number of recommendations. These include:
- Remain calm and reassuring.
- Make yourself available to listen and to talk.
- Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma.
- Pay attention to what children see or hear on television, radio or online.
- Provide information that is honest and accurate.
- Teach children everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs.
The National Association of School Psychologists has also issued helpful hints for parents similar to those from the CDC. Among them: Limit television viewing or access to information on the internet and through social media. Try to avoid watching or listening to information that might be upsetting when your children are present.
State Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris has released a 1-minute video on Twitter to help parents and caregivers talk to children about the coronavirus.
— Office of the California Surgeon General (@CA_OSG) March 23, 2020
Burke-Harris urges adults to approach the conversation in a calm way, ask what children have heard and allow them to share their fears, correct any misinformation, reassure them and remind them about the importance of proper hygiene, healthy eating and exercise.
In addition, Burke-Harris stresses the need for adults to take care of themselves. She urges the public to visit www.covid19.ca.gov for coronavirus information and resources, which are updated regularly.
National Public Radio has created a comic to help parents talk to their children about the virus. And the independent national nonprofit The Child Mind Institute, which focuses on children’s mental health, has posted an article titled: “Talking to kids about the coronavirus: Kids worry more when they’re kept in the dark.”
Staff writers Theresa Harrington, Larry Gordon, Sydney Johnson, Zaidee Stavely, Diana Lambert, Ali Tadayon and Louis Freedberg contributed to this report