Credit: AP Photo/Eric Risberg
A headline announces the closure of large events in San Francisco on March 13 after Gov. Gavin Newsom called for canceling all non-essential gatherings of more than 250 people because of the coronavirus threat.
This article was updated on March 15 with data on district closures and comments from Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has given school districts some reassurance they have been waiting for: They will be paid for days they shut down to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

Newsom’s executive order late Friday, covering reimbursement for lost school days, includes conditions, including continuing to provide subsidized meals to low-income students, that some education officials say must be quickly clarified. The announcement came hours after dozens of school districts announced they would be shutting starting Monday.

EdSource has estimated that as of Sunday night, more than 5.1 million students (84 percent) in two thirds of districts (at least 599) will be shut down this week. With the exception of the Kern High School District in Bakersfield, 24 of the 25 largest school districts will be closed. (Go here to check the status of your district.)

With few exceptions, the districts will close for  two or three weeks. State and county health officials had encouraged closures in the hope that reducing close contact among students would slow an alarming spread of the coronavirus in California as well as reduce the risk of infection for teachers and school staff. As of Saturday, state health officials had reported 288 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, with five deaths.

Some districts had hesitated to close schools without some confidence that they would be held harmless for a loss of revenue. Word that Newsom would agree and encouragement from medical experts prompted them to act quickly.

“I applaud Governor Newsom for the action in his Executive Order to provide schools with the tools they need to continue providing students with high-quality education while keeping them safe,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond stated in a press release from the governor. “This allows schools to put safety first without jeopardizing the financial resources needed to meet the needs of our students.”

The California Teachers Association responded enthusiastically as well. “We applaud the governor for funding schools even if they have to physically close and for thinking about the learning, fiscal and community impacts in his thoughtful executive order,” Claudia Briggs, assistant manager for communications for CTA., wrote in an email. “We hope districts make the decision to close to support the containment of the Novel Coronavirus Disease.”

Others, however, expressed concerns about wording  in the executive order. It qualifies funding to districts continuing to offer “high quality education opportunities” through options like online learning and independent study “to the extent feasible.” And it said that districts also should provide for supervision of students during normal school hours “to the extent practicable” and be prepared to deliver school meals in unspecified non-cafeteria settings.

The implication is that “somehow districts must maintain operations, and that confuses us,” said Sara Bachez, chief governmental relations officer for the California Association of School Business Officials. “It’s unclear what’s being asked of teachers to do. We need to treat this as a crisis. To ask us to do beyond our ability is not putting staff and students first.”

In his press release, Newsom stressed that funding comes with an obligation. “The needs of California kids must be met regardless of whether their school is open or closed,” he said. “School districts that choose to close must use state educational dollars to quickly meet the needs of children and families.”

At his press conference Sunday, Newsom said that children’s nutritional needs must be met and that he knows some districts closed without plans for providing meals for low-income students — breakfast as well as lunch. Acknowledging “logistical and siting issues,” he said the state would recruit nonprofit organizations and private food providers to help districts meet their obligation.

“It’s one thing to say you have a plan, it’s another to actually deliver on that plan,” he said. “And with respect, not everybody that closed had that plan. So we are making sure we supplement that.”

Most K-12 schools don’t have the capacity to provide online learning, and many families lack broadband internet and home computing to participate and, in the rush this week, little time to prepare for two or three weeks of providing homework.

But, as EdSource reported, some districts have been looking into options, including  take-home projects and partnerships with local media. Los Angeles Unified may be about to do what Newsom had in mind. It announced last week it will partner with public television stations KCET and PBS SoCal  to broadcast educational programming to students. Similar programming will also be available in other parts of the state. Lesson plans and take-home assignments will accompany the programming. Superintendent Austin Beutner said in a statement that many students will be able to continue learning on Monday.

Kevin Gordon, president of Capitol Advisors Group, an education consulting company based in Sacramento, said, “Absent any clarification, the order absolutely implies a raft of new mandates in exchange for fiscal protection.” But after conversations with Newsom’s aides, he felt confident that’s not their intent and is optimistic the wording will be clarified. The executive order gives departments of Education and Human Services until March 17 to issue guidance on carrying out the order. A lot will be riding on the interpretation of “feasible” and “practicable.”

The executive order responded to several concerns that the Education Coalition, a cross-section of nine education organizations, had raised in a letter to the administration and legislators on Friday:

  • Newsom reaffirmed that districts would be reimbursed for providing meals to low-income students even though schools will be closed. More than 60 percent of the state’s students qualify for free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch under the federal school meals program.   The coalition, meanwhile, wants assurance the state will cover additional costs.
  • The state would not penalize districts if they could not meet the required 175 days of annual instructional time. The Legislature lowered the minimum from 180 days in 2008, during the Great Recession. Most districts have restored the calendar to 180 days plus days for staff development.
  • The state would waive the laws and regulations that would prevent districts from offering online instruction and independent studies to students during their shutdown. The executive order said that the guidance should address equity gaps with distance learning, since some students will not have access to broadband and devices.

The letter from the Education Coalition calls for the Legislature and Newsom to act on issues not covered in the executive order:

  • Suspending state assessments — the Smarter Balanced tests and the Next Generation Science Standards tests — this year.
  • Recognizing the impact of the closures on chronic absenteeism and other measures on the California School Dashboard.
  • Covering a loss of revenue , beyond school closures, from students whose parents may continue keeping them home. The state bases funding to schools on average daily attendance.
  • Providing additional funding to hire additional counselors and address a critical shortage of school nurses.

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  1. April Johnston 4 months ago4 months ago

    I am a bus driver for Student Transportation of America in Escondido. We are a contracted company to EUSD, Special Needs Children. Will we get paid for loss of work due to COVID-19?

  2. Cathy Mats 5 months ago5 months ago

    I am a parent of a child with a IEP Who receives services for speech and social skills through the school district. If these services are not being provided because of the closure due to COVID 19, how are will they meet their goals by the end of the school year? Also I have not heard the Governor say anything about special education students.

  3. Kathie Resendez 5 months ago5 months ago

    I would like to see elementary, junior high and high schools open with a limited amount of students for the rest of the school year per day/week. Example: assign students on Monday, for one classroom, 6 of the 30 (most classrooms are under 35) students come to school. Continue this idea to divide students for the rest of the week (Tues., Wed., Thurs., Fri) according to enrollment. If … Read More

    I would like to see elementary, junior high and high schools open with a limited amount of students for the rest of the school year per day/week. Example: assign students on Monday, for one classroom, 6 of the 30 (most classrooms are under 35) students come to school. Continue this idea to divide students for the rest of the week (Tues., Wed., Thurs., Fri) according to enrollment. If students are ill or parents prefer they stay home and continue with on line learning, then they should also have this option.

    I just think other options should be available.

  4. Judy St.Pierre 5 months ago5 months ago

    Are substitute teachers going to continue to be paid in Kern County?

  5. Carrie Mcnulty 5 months ago5 months ago

    There was a comment made about IEP. My son has a IEP. He is pulled everyday out of class. Then he receives extra support in the classroom. He is ADHD. He has a learning disability. He receives speech. He didn’t really start speaking till he was four years old. My son cannot learn from a computer. He needs face to face. I have not heard the governor say anything about these kinds of kids. He … Read More

    There was a comment made about IEP. My son has a IEP. He is pulled everyday out of class. Then he receives extra support in the classroom. He is ADHD. He has a learning disability. He receives speech. He didn’t really start speaking till he was four years old.

    My son cannot learn from a computer. He needs face to face. I have not heard the governor say anything about these kinds of kids. He says online school is good. Yes for kids who don’t have disabilities like my son. I sit with my son the entire time during work packets. I have a two year old who needs me. I also have a seven year old who can mostly do all his schoolwork by himself. My son will be held back if something is not in place for these kids. A lot of parents don’t know what to do. No kid left behind??

  6. John Brown 5 months ago5 months ago

    Is there a plan to pay school staff during these closures or is it just their PTO unemployment option? If the government is mandating closure, and schools are still being funded, staff should be paid.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 5 months ago5 months ago

      As I understand it, staff should be paid, since the Legislature has agreed to cover funding during school closures.

  7. Shari Smithson 5 months ago5 months ago

    I was told independent study schools are not included in the school closures and are not being granted waivers for attendance credit. At our site weekly parent teacher student meetings are still happening. All schools should close to reduce face to face time.

  8. Theresa 5 months ago5 months ago

    I would hope that while this misfortune continues, that the idea of cancelling state testing for this year will be considered and implemented.

  9. Judith Gadd 5 months ago5 months ago

    How will the AP and IB students be prepared for their tests? How do we meet these student needs? This should also be a priority. How can we best support them with curriculum that is challenging?

  10. Kathryn J Claytor 5 months ago5 months ago

    I wish they’d just fund the schools based on enrollment rather than attendance. Look at what a hassle the way they fund it is.

  11. Llesenia Ybarra 5 months ago5 months ago

    What will they do for children who receive special education IEP and need push in or pull out support from a special education teacher? They need to be physically present to help the child. There’s no way these children can be taught online without proper help from a special education teacher. They will not make their goals and complete their minutes. IEP is a legal binding document. No one has addressed that issue. I am a concerned parent.

  12. el 5 months ago5 months ago

    I am really glad to see this. It enables districts to do what is right for kids, staff, and community. It gives staff confidence that they will continue to get a paycheck. Going forward, I think it's time for us to create a third option for school districts in a state of emergency: optional attendance. When contemplating closing schools, there's a real tension between closing them so that parents who want and have resources to … Read More

    I am really glad to see this. It enables districts to do what is right for kids, staff, and community. It gives staff confidence that they will continue to get a paycheck.

    Going forward, I think it’s time for us to create a third option for school districts in a state of emergency: optional attendance. When contemplating closing schools, there’s a real tension between closing them so that parents who want and have resources to keep their kids safe at home can do so, and keeping schools open so that families who rely on school can access them. Lately we’ve had to deal with a range of disaster types: fire evacuation advisories, terrible air quality, power outages, and now coronavirus. For each of them, we’ve had this tension.

    In some cases, families are able to leave the area if school is closed, or able to provide better facilities at home. This can be especially true for medically fragile kids. In some cases, school has cleaner air, better supervision, and is better able to keep kids safe. There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer, so what if we went with a more flexible plan? Something like “School is open for people who want and need it to be open. Absences are excused for people who are better off out of school. Call ahead to pick up a packet for independent study, or join class via videoconference and get your assignments online.”

    Infrastructure is needed (note that Zoom says they’re giving K-12 free conferencing; Skype and Google Hangouts are also free options). Videoconferences can also be recorded for students who are unable to participate in them in real time. Not all kids have broadband or devices and this is something we need to work on, but it’s not essential to the plan. Schools already can offer independent study for a 5 day or longer absence, but we need a streamlined form that can handle these uncertain events (will the power be out for one day or five?) as well as the possibility that half the students won’t be there in person. The state can do more to give districts the financial flexibility to make the right decisions for their students all the time.

    With a viral epidemic like this, even having half the kids stay home can make everyone safer. Having schools open so that kids aren’t going en masse to the movie theaters instead makes us safer. In schools we have full time custodial staff to keep the classrooms clean … Your friend’s household that is taking in 10 kids for the neighborhood playdate/emergency day care does not have this.

    Fewer kids in school enables more social distancing, and these measures make it possible for kids who have even slight illnesses to stay home more easily and acceptably. Parents who work jobs critical to the community that cannot be done at home or with kids by their side can carry on with their routines knowing their kids are safe and getting a meaningful and valuable day of activity.

    There are still going to be times when things are so bad that schools need to close entirely. But I think creating this middle ground will release a lot of stress on administrators trying to make a decision for the whole community when the situation is especially uncertain, and put a lot of parental minds at ease.