Credit: Andrew Reed/EdSource
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at Ruby Bridges Elementary School in Alameda during a news conference. As part of his May budget revision, Newsom is proposing starting college savings accounts for all low-income students in California next fiscal year.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and state health officials said Tuesday they expect all schools and higher education institutions to open for full-time in-person instruction in the fall, following the announcement that California intends to retire its “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” color-coded tier system on June 15.

Some believe the announcement will set the tone for debate with the Legislature during the annual “May Revision” of the state budget about whether schools will be mandated to offer in-person instruction in the fall. Derick Lennox, director of Governmental Relations and Legal Affairs for the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, also predicts a debate over whether districts will be allowed or required to offer distance learning as an exception to full in-person instruction for those families that request.

Since August 2020, the tier system has guided when schools can or can’t reopen for in-person instruction, requiring them to be out of the most restrictive “purple” tier for at least two weeks in order to bring students back into the classroom.

After reaching a milestone of more than 20 million vaccine doses administered in California, including 4 million to the state’s low-income communities hardest hit by the pandemic, state officials promised to move toward ending the tier system. However, the state must continue to have enough vaccine supply to meet the demand and Covid-related hospitalizations must remain low.

Newsom said he “expects” all K-12 schools and community colleges to offer in-person instruction after the state eliminates the tier system, though it’s unclear what individual school districts will decide to do after most end the traditional school year by June 15.

“I want kids back in school safely for in-person instruction,” Newsom said. “On June 15, we anticipate there will be no barrier to getting all of our kids safely back, not just K-12, community colleges, including institutions of higher learning.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said he also sees a way for schools to return safely in the fall.

“I share Governor Newsom’s optimism that as conditions continue to improve, and as all Californians continue common-sense measures, such as continuing to wear a mask and getting vaccinated, there is a clear pathway to a safe and full return to in-person teaching and learning this fall,” Thurmond said in a statement.

Still, Thurmond urged the state to “proceed with caution” as there are still many unknowns about the Covid variants and their spread among youth. He’s “heartened,” however, by early research on vaccine effectiveness in adolescents.

Thurmond said the state “must prepare for the possibility” that some families may not be prepared to send their students back to school campuses in the fall, and that schools may need the flexibility to offer some form of remote learning.

California Teachers Association spokeswoman Claudia Briggs did not directly comment on the plan to drop the tier system. However, in a statement, she cautioned not to loosen safety measures already in place when returning to school and to continue to closely monitor community infection rates.

“As students and educators continue to return to classrooms for in-person teaching and learning, we must all keep our eyes on safety ensuring that all the safety protocols are in place to protect our students, their families, educators and staff,” Briggs said.

California Department of Public Health officials did not specifically say what safety protocols would remain in place for schools after the tier system goes away, but that schools would have to remain “in compliance with Cal/OSHA emergency temporary standards and public health guidelines.” Masks will continue to be a requirement at schools and businesses, said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.

Edgar Zazueta, senior director of policy and government relations for the Association of California School Administrators, said the expectation of in-person instruction in the fall could throw a wrench into many educators’ current plans for a distance or hybrid model.

“The takeaway is that full-person instruction should be the expectation; there would be no justification for hybrid in the coming year,” Zazueta said.

Between now and June 15, while the color tiers still apply, the California Department of Public Health is implementing further changes in the criteria determining tiers, which have pushed more counties from tiers with the most restrictions — purple and red — into tiers with the least restrictions, orange and yellow.

As of Tuesday, 32 of 58 counties, covering 81% of the state’s population, including Los Angeles, are in orange, indicating a moderate rate of Covid infection. Only two counties with less than 1% of the population remain in purple: Inyo and Merced, and 22 counties are in red, indicating a substantial rate of infection. Two of the least populated counties, Sierra and Alpine, are in yellow.

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  1. Dan Plonsey 2 months ago2 months ago

    To "solve" problems of the pandemic and inequality simply by forcing schools to reopen is a fantasy which Newsom, facing a recall, apparently feels obligated to embrace. In order to make improvements in education, our students need good quality healthcare, and their families need a decent income: the obscene level of economic inequality is what drives educational inequality. The pandemic has made it worse, but the old "normal" was unacceptable! I hope that readers here … Read More

    To “solve” problems of the pandemic and inequality simply by forcing schools to reopen is a fantasy which Newsom, facing a recall, apparently feels obligated to embrace. In order to make improvements in education, our students need good quality healthcare, and their families need a decent income: the obscene level of economic inequality is what drives educational inequality. The pandemic has made it worse, but the old “normal” was unacceptable!

    I hope that readers here understand that attacking teachers during a teacher shortage only weakens education, and that attacking organized labor serves to increase inequality. No one knows what conditions will be like in August, but I hope that we’ll behave more sensibly, and not make the pandemic worse!

  2. Erica 2 months ago2 months ago

    Doesn't the tier system staying in place just offer a consistent and relevant tool as we move forward into safer times? Why the need to be rid of it as a tool... If in fact the decisions being made are based on people's safety, then why not keep it in place as a way to give confidence to everyone that things are improving as they predict they will? Does the fact that people … Read More

    Doesn’t the tier system staying in place just offer a consistent and relevant tool as we move forward into safer times? Why the need to be rid of it as a tool… If in fact the decisions being made are based on people’s safety, then why not keep it in place as a way to give confidence to everyone that things are improving as they predict they will?

    Does the fact that people have gotten a vaccine reduce the need to know what the case rates actually are? If the vaccine works as they say it does then the case rates should be what illustrates to everyone that the vaccine is working and we are all safer. And the blueprint the state has provided should be a constant in measuring the progress and current reality.

  3. LAUSD Parent 3 months ago3 months ago

    Schools were created for students not Teacher’s Unions or Board members. Parents and students have zero representation in the room and need to be included in the conversation. Now is the time to start planning for full time in the fall so parents, teachers and students aren’t scrambling last minute like this school year.

  4. Jay 3 months ago3 months ago

    The May Revise should require schools to offer in-person instruction to all students with a reduced capacity of 25%. In exchange, teachers must teach an additional two periods at the middle and high school levels to offset changes in class size. Elementary schools will hire additional teachers similar to the years of 20:1. This can happen when we put our students first and all elected officials lead. With leadership, the influence of CTA will not be an issue.

  5. Lori 3 months ago3 months ago

    A few things are crystal clear right now as a Trustee in one of the largest K-8 districts in the state... 1. School districts need to know what they are planning for come fall now, not after the May revise. 2. No one knows what next fall or winter will bring with the variants, a new wave, etc. School districts should be given the flexibility with their in-person and learning support/recovery grants … Read More

    A few things are crystal clear right now as a Trustee in one of the largest K-8 districts in the state…
    1. School districts need to know what they are planning for come fall now, not after the May revise.
    2. No one knows what next fall or winter will bring with the variants, a new wave, etc. School districts should be given the flexibility with their in-person and learning support/recovery grants (AB/SB 86) to configure with lower class sizes for next year to allow for maintaining social distancing so we’re not forced back into a hybrid situation again next year (or at least for as little time as possible). This should be the norm that all districts are funded for next year, not just for the districts who received the most funding from AB/SB 86. Hint … not all districts have the LCFF formula scores to enable this. The Legislature has the ability to be proactive here, but they have to make it a priority now or we will potentially be in this same quagmire come next fall/winter if the virus surges again.
    3. Some families continue to want (some desperately for health or just how their student learns best) an option for distance learning in the fall. Why should that not be an option for districts to provide as long as the same instructional minutes and standards-based curricula are met?
    4. Gov. Newsom making grandiose and hopeful announcements, without the information about firm and actionable requirements which school districts can plan around now is __ not __ helpful.

    Give us the requirements we’re going to be expected to implement and the funding to do it, and then give us the local control to go build it in the way that works best for our learners and districts. That is helpful and sets us all up for learning success for students.

  6. SD Parent 3 months ago3 months ago

    The narratives of the Governor and CTA have an inherent conflict that everyone seems to be ignoring. CTA has many positions in regards to in-person instruction, including that six feet of distance is required between students. That reduces the student capacity of classrooms by 50% or more, necessitating 100% more teachers (during an educator shortage) and 100% more classroom space (which doesn't exist at most school sites)--or just half as much in-person instruction. … Read More

    The narratives of the Governor and CTA have an inherent conflict that everyone seems to be ignoring. CTA has many positions in regards to in-person instruction, including that six feet of distance is required between students. That reduces the student capacity of classrooms by 50% or more, necessitating 100% more teachers (during an educator shortage) and 100% more classroom space (which doesn’t exist at most school sites)–or just half as much in-person instruction. Most hybrid models currently offer significantly less in-person and even online synchronous instruction per week than what students received pre-pandemic.

    If Governor Newsom wants California students in TK-12 public education to actually experience in-person learning 5 full days per week in the Fall, then the Governor and the Legislature will have to stipulate this – not leave it to collective bargaining, as they did for 2020-21.

  7. Jim 3 months ago3 months ago

    Newsom is acutely aware that closed schools is his biggest weakness. Crystal Ball time: all public schools will be open a week prior to the recall vote. If it wasn’t for the recall they might not open ever.