Q: What challenges do schools face to delivering online learning to all students?
California needs more than 700,000 laptops and 300,000 Wi-Fi hotspots to connect all students to the internet from home, according to recent estimates from the California Department of Education.
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 email@example.com.
The California state budget also includes $5.3 billion in “Learning Loss Mitigation Funding” that school districts can apply for to help pay for distance learning and strategies to help students overcome learning loss.
Q: When can schools open for in-person instruction?
A: Gov. Newsom issued new guidance on July 17 that said any private or public school – including both district and charter schools – located in counties on the state’s “monitoring list” for Covid-19 spread cannot open for in-person instruction until the county has been removed from the list for 14 consecutive days. However, the guidance allows elementary schools in those counties to apply for waivers that could allow them to reopen if they work with their local public health departments to determine how to open safely and consult with labor parents and the community.
Q. What plans are being made for California schools to reopen?
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. However, schools can only do this if they are not in counties on the “monitoring list” or if they are elementary schools that have received waivers (see above item). 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.
Previous guidance from the California Department of Education on June 8, recommended limiting the number of students physically on campus at the same time for in-person instruction and considering strategies such as hybrid learning models where students participate in a mix of in-person and online classes. However, as of July 28, 38 counties representing more than 90% of the state’s population are on the state’s monitoring list, resulting in most schools planning to start the school year with distance learning.
The distance learning rules in AB-77 require teachers to confirm that students have the necessary technology at home to participate in distance learning. Teachers participating in distance learning will 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 Department of Public Health guidance, students should expect to wash their hands and have their temperature taken often. Staff and students in grades 3-12 must wear masks and younger students are encouraged to do so. Students must remain at all times in small groups of classmates known as “cohorts.” Signs and taped marks on the floor will likely tell them which direction to walk and where to stand in hallways and in the cafeteria.
A school would be required to close if at least 5% of the student body and staff are diagnosed with Covid-19 within a 14-day period, according to the Department of Public Health guidance. A superintendent should close the entire school district if a quarter of its schools have been closed due to Covid-19 cases within two weeks, the guidance says.
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 counties that met certain criteria could reopen additional businesses with modifications. Although these could include K-12 schools, most schools remained closed through the end of the 2019-20 school year. The state released initialguidance for schools on 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.
As Covid-19 cases began to increase in late June and July, the state imposed tighter restrictions on businesses and released stricter guidance for reopening K-12 schools. The state is still in phase 2 of reopening.
Phase 3 will include higher education and phase 4 will include large gatherings such as sporting events.
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.
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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. More information about how Covid-19 has affected the state’s accountability requirements is here.
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. 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 expects to hold exam sessions in July, September, October and December, depending on when schools reopen. Additional test dates and other information is available at www.ACT.org.
The College Board canceled its May and June SAT administrations. 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 play dates 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.
In lieu of in-person play dates, some families are setting up video play dates 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 guidelines for childcare centers, as various sectors in the state began to reopen, then followed up with updated guidance on July 17 for child care programs and providers. The state has also issued “Support for Working Families” guidance with additional information related to childcare and other resources.
When the shelter-in-place order first began in California in March, child care facilities were only available to the children of essential workers, like nurses, grocery store clerks, child care providers and farm workers. But in early June, child care facilities were allowed to reopen for all children, if they meet health and safety guidelines like wearing masks and keeping children in small groups and six feet apart, as much as possible.
Licensed child care facilities, which include both centers and programs operated out of providers’ homes, are required to report any case of Covid-19 among staff, children and family members to the California Department of Social Services Community Care Licensing Division, which oversees licensing for child care facilities. The facilities serve infants, toddlers, preschoolers and some school-age children up to 12 years old.
Q: Have any California schoolchildren or teachers been diagnosed with the coronavirus?
A: Yes. Of the 466,550 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state as of July 29, 41,836 were children ages 0-17, 282,008 were adults between the ages of 18 and 49, 89,869 were adults between 50 and 64, 52,302 were adults 65 or older, and 535 were people whose ages were not known. Of the 8,518 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
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