Expect California schools to remain closed until summer, governor says

March 17, 2020

High school students at Oakland Technical High School in Oakland, Calif., Monday, May 1, 2017. Photos by Alison Yin for EdSource

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Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that most school districts should expect to remain closed for the rest of the school year and not reopen in a few weeks, as many parents are anticipating, because of escalating coronavirus infections.

“I need to be honest and transparent with you,” he said to parents and educators, citing the “changing nature of the dynamic” of the pandemic and the need to continue social distancing by having students remain at home.

“Don’t anticipate schools are going to open in a week. Please don’t anticipate in a few weeks,” he said.

During his press conference, he also suggested that school sites may be repurposed to provide child care during the closures for low-income children and parents with no other alternatives. He said there would be more details in coming days.

Newsom had declined to order that all schools be shut down, but he said that 98.2 percent of schools have closed and that the remaining rural and small schools will likely do so soon, after they have made plans for providing student meals and child care.

He also said that California  is requesting a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to suspend the state’s annual standardized tests for this year. This week, the Legislature extended the window for testing by 45 days. But Newsom said that, in speaking with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and President of the State Board of Education Linda Darling Hammond, he recognized eliminating testing would be best for students.

“We think it would be inappropriate for students to worry about coming back and being tested,” he said.

“We won’t be the only state applying for a waiver,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the State Board of Education, pointing out that by far the majority of states have already closed their schools or are planning to do so. “Since we are in a state of national emergency, it is possible that the federal government will grant a wholesale waiver to any state that asks for one.”

Troy Flint, spokesman for the California School Boards Association, said Newsom’s prediction that schools wouldn’t reopen for the rest of the school year was not a surprise.

“You hope for the best but prepare for the worst,” he said. “We recognized that school closures might last longer than some initially anticipated. Now that the governor has confirmed this will be the case for most if not all school districts and county offices of education, we will redouble efforts to answer questions from families and other school communities.”

After Newsom spoke, the California Department of Education released extensive guidance on expectations for school districts while closed because of the coronavirus. Those obligations include providing long-distance learning, school meals — at a minimum for low-income children — and child care during school hours where “practicable.”

“It is an understatement to say that it is difficult to plan in this constantly evolving situation, and regular reassessments are critical as the public health considerations continue to change,” the cover letter stated.

In recent days, districts have been bombarded with a slew of executive orders, emergency legislation and federal waivers. Darling-Hammond said that the purpose of the guidance is to “package all of this in as easily digestible a form as possible for districts that have thousands of questions regarding what they are allowed to do in each of these areas, what are some strategies they can use and what resources they can tap.”

The guidance includes sections on distance learning and independent study, school meal delivery and child care supervision. It emphasizes providing equal access for low-income children and accommodating the needs of special education students. It also includes resources for schools planning distance learning and best practices from California and around the nation.

It states that school districts that are closed but receiving funding should either provide child care on school sites or partner with other local agencies to help families find child care programs that are still open. Child care should be available especially to families who are responding to the crisis, such as health care workers, emergency response personnel, child care workers and key government employees.

Check back for more information on this developing story.

Louis Freedberg and Zaidee Stavely contributed to this article. 

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