Photo: Michael Burke/EdSource
Students inside teacher Carissa Brander’s 1st grade class during one of the school's first days of in-person learning.
This story was updated to include state definition for in-person instruction.

As Covid-19 cases drop in California, Black, Latino and Asian students are less likely to be back on campus compared to their white peers, according to an EdSource analysis.

On Friday, nearly a year after schools initially began closing their physical campuses due to Covid-19, the California Department of Public Health released a much-anticipated statewide map illustrating where and to what extent 990 school districts across California are offering in-person instruction.

Districts reported whether elementary, middle and high schools were offering in-person, distance learning or hybrid, a combination of online and in-person instruction.   Only 4% of California students attend elementary, middle or high schools in districts where at least half of the students have access to full time in-person instruction for five days a week, according to an EdSource analysis based on the map data. The vast majority of students (79%) are still in distance learning.  The remaining districts are offering hybrid instruction, a combination of in-person and distance instruction.

It is based on information that school districts, charter and private schools are required to submit to the state beginning on Jan. 25. The map will be regularly updated based on new information received.

“As COVID-19 conditions continue to improve and vaccinations ramp up throughout the state, this map will provide local communities with accessible, up-to-date information on how districts in their communities and beyond are adapting to the pandemic, including safety planning and implementation,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday.

Of the districts that reported to the state, 19% of districts said they are offering in-person instruction in all grades, 18% said they are offering hybrid instruction, 51% said they are offering distance instruction in all grades. Another 12% of districts said they are offering a mixture of  in-person, hybrid or distance learning, depending the grade level.

Across California, many more elementary schools than high schools are offering in-person instruction. Nearly half of all districts with elementary schools have reopened them for in-person or hybrid instruction. High school students are less likely to be on campus. Only 27% of districts with high schools have reopened them to in-person or hybrid instruction.

But there’s a disparity among which groups of students are able to go into school for in-person classes. White students are more likely to have that experience. Nearly 90% of Black students, 85% of Latino students, and 81% of Asian students attend districts that are still primarily in distance learning mode, compared with 64% of white students, according to an EdSource analysis.  The map published the state does provide information on the racial or ethnic background of students in any particular district.  EdSource added the demographic information from the California Department of Education in its analysis in order to show racial and ethnic disparities in access to different forms of instruction.

In addition, schools in districts with high proportions of low-income students and English learners are more likely to be closed for in-person classes than schools in higher income areas. About 80% of students on a free and reduced priced lunch plan, and 80% of English learners are attending schools mostly or entirely in distance learning.

Nearly every public school district is represented on the map, as well as 81% of charter schools and 54% of private schools. Among the districts that responded, 76% of charter schools that serve students in K-5 elementary students are offering instruction via distance learning, compared with 34% of K-5 private schools. And 85% of charter high schools remain in distance learning mode, while 59% of private high schools are offering instruction that way.

The racial and economic disparities in access to in-person learning reflects how Covid-19 is disproportionately affecting different communities. Across the state, Black, Latino and low-income families, as well as people experiencing homelessness, have some of the highest rates of Covid-19, partly because these groups are often more likely to live in dense housing situations or are unable to work at home.

That has caused some school districts to delay reopening plans as parents and staff have expressed concern about high levels of Covid-19 in their communities on top of preexisting safety concerns in schools such as lack of ventilation or even windows in some buildings. Teachers’ unions have also pushed back against reopening unless teachers are vaccinated and other mitigation strategies are in place.

The data comes amid increasing pressure from President Joe Biden and Gov. Newsom to come up with strategies to encourage schools to reopen for in-person instruction. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a color-coded guide and a detailed 33-page roadmap to help school districts decide under what conditions they could offer in-person instruction, similar to the color-coded reopening guide that California has in place.

“K-12 schools should be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures in the community have been employed, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely. Schools should be prioritized for reopening and remaining open for in-person instruction over nonessential businesses and activities,” the guidance reads.

The updated CDC guidance focuses on five mitigation strategies aimed to protect teachers, staff and students from the coronavirus. The strategies are strict mask-wearing, maintaining 6 feet of social distance, frequent hand-washing, proper ventilation, as well as contact tracing and quarantine protocols.

But Newsom’s reopening efforts have run into resistance from numerous directions, and he has yet to forge a consensus on the issue in the Legislature. Newsom had hoped to come to an agreement with legislators this week, but Friday came and went without an announcement on a timetable and conditions for reopening elementary schools.

Parents and teachers in support of the governor’s push for reopening schools worry that students are falling behind academically during distance learning, as well as struggling mentally and socially without their usual supports and friends on campus.

Some are especially worried that middle and high school students will be left out of the push is to open schools, which has so far has focused mostly on elementary-age students. “Locking older children out of the classroom ignores the science and data that shows school closures are impacting kids of every age,” said Ross Novie, a member of Open Schools California, a group of parents who are pushing for a swift and safe reopening of schools. “Schools are an essential public service and should be treated as such — the last institutions to close when cases spike and the first to reopen.”

Elementary-level schools were the first group to be given the green light to reopen last fall if they obtained a waiver from the state.

Clusters of schools offering in-person instruction are concentrated in rural areas, such as northeast California and the Central Valley, as well as in more affluent urban and suburban communities in Orange County, Marin and San Diego.

But across California, reopening schools remains a fraught are of debate, including whether teachers should be vaccinated before they enter their physical classrooms. The teachers’ union representing L.A. Unified has said employees should be vaccinated before they return, for example. But in many counties, it has been a  challenge for teachers to get the vaccine largely due to a lack of supply.

 

 

 

 

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  1. Jennifer Bestor 3 months ago3 months ago

    Folks, look in the mirror. To create headlines like this, you sidearm hundreds of millions of dollars away from 270,000 California school children. You do — EdSource, ed community, legislative staffers, equity warriors, academics. You avert your eyes while the legislature hands off mushrooming millions in property tax *allocated to education* — to local governments, instead. Is this a sin of omission or commission? Is “Prop 13” your all-purpose, get-out-of-learning-anything-about-school-revenue … Read More

    Folks, look in the mirror. To create headlines like this, you sidearm hundreds of millions of dollars away from 270,000 California school children. You do — EdSource, ed community, legislative staffers, equity warriors, academics. You avert your eyes while the legislature hands off mushrooming millions in property tax *allocated to education* — to local governments, instead. Is this a sin of omission or commission? Is “Prop 13” your all-purpose, get-out-of-learning-anything-about-school-revenue card — or do you want to keep playing the equity card, with your heel hard on the necks of a quarter of a million children you could help?

    In two days, we’ll learn whether the diversion will top $1 billion for the first time this year. How much property tax collected for the poorest districts in the most expensive counties will we pretend doesn’t exist? The minute it’s published, check out the SELPA Special Education Local Revenue report in the P-1. The final line in the report, “Unused Excess ERAF,” stands for Unused Excess Educational Revenue Augmentation Funding. Property tax collected to augment educational revenue declared “excess” by our legislature.

    Last year in San Mateo County, that number was $268,450,022. Divide that by the number of children in San Mateo County school districts that aren’t majority white, that aren’t wealthy, but which are collapsing under the state’s flat statewide school funding allowances — and you get $11,000 per child. Yup, there was $11,000 collected to help every Black, hispanic, low-income, English-learning elementary school kid in East Palo Alto, in Daly City, in Pacifica, etc … available to help get them into the classroom like their wealthier right-next-door neighbors. It was handed off instead to the wealthiest local governments in the state — disproportionately to the cities and special districts housing the local white, wealthy basic-aid districts.

    Set in Constitutional stone? No. Check out section 97.3(d)(4)(B)(i)(III) of the Revenue & Taxation Code. A simple majority vote of the legislature created this — and could change it. The legislature, not voters, handed it to local governments that already receive much more property tax than everywhere else in the state. Who knew? Well, who bothered to read the LAO’s “Excess ERAF” white paper last March and Think About It? Yeah, the LAO was focused on $300 million that fell into an interesting gray area having to do with redevelopment dissolution — but, folks, the bigger picture is the $500 million … and growing.

    Hate San Mateo County on principle? Well, check out San Francisco! Last year $292,373,902 was handed to the mayor to spend, instead of the school district. That’s $5,000 per child in the city. Can you believe it’s the City suing the school district to open? FYI, the city and county of San Francisco already received 2.4X the state average per capita in property tax last year — before adding the schools’ “excess” to that total. Wanna adjust for commuters? Just twice the state average. Don’t believe me, Read The Report. Then you’ll understand why the city pays so well, while SFUSD pays so poorly.

    Over 274,000 school children in Santa Clara, Marin, San Mateo and San Francisco should receive a regional cost adjustment to their LCFF entitlement. It would cost the state nothing. It would have no impact on the Prop 98 guarantee. Are you looking to the Bay Area to power you out of this recession? Fighting over where to spend the $20B+ of personal income tax we send to Sacramento — above and beyond what we ourselves use in state services? C’mon, stop looking the other way while our local communities of color collapse without schools … and stop pretending that inequity is something someone else is responsible for.

  2. Paul Muench 3 months ago3 months ago

    Does this mean more white people live in the rural areas where schools are open? That seems to overlap with the regions of California that vote Republican.

  3. Scott K 3 months ago3 months ago

    Let’s be brutally honest here … CTA preaches equality yet their #1 priority is teachers not children. Actions speak louder than words. Teachers should be demanding to reopen all schools.

  4. B 3 months ago3 months ago

    Open. The. Schools. All schools. Open them now. It is being done safely and can be done safely in all schools.

  5. Brenda Lebsack 3 months ago3 months ago

    May I give another perspective? I teach in a Title I District that is 98% Hispanic with a high percentage of non-English speaking parents. I was a school board member in a neighboring district that is not a Title 1 District. My district (Title 1) has been closed this entire time, with the exception of some sporadic learning labs. The neighboring district (non-Title 1) has been doing hybrid for most of … Read More

    May I give another perspective? I teach in a Title I District that is 98% Hispanic with a high percentage of non-English speaking parents. I was a school board member in a neighboring district that is not a Title 1 District. My district (Title 1) has been closed this entire time, with the exception of some sporadic learning labs.

    The neighboring district (non-Title 1) has been doing hybrid for most of the school year. Why? Because of parent opposition and enrollment is dropping in the more affluent district. Districts’ funding is usually based on attendance and enrollment and money always motivates.

    When it comes to facilities, Title 1 districts usually have much nicer facilities because they get more money per student.

    Community pressure definitely has an impact on whether or not a board votes to open schools because trustees want to get re-elected. Non-English immigrant communities are typically less vocal at board meetings and understandably so, however their districts are not lacking in funding.

    So how can the playing field be leveled? School choice. Immigrant families should be able to choose educational models that work for their children, just like upper middle class families. This is true equity.

  6. Floyd Thursby 3 months ago3 months ago

    Brilliant article!!!

  7. Ann Halvorsen 3 months ago3 months ago

    Is anyone in, from or with children in public schools really surprised at these data? Elementary schools generally have smaller populations than secondary schools. Students do not move from a dedicated classroom through multiple subjects often 8-10 or more times daily with different groups in each room and typically 3-6 minutes between classes in crowded halls with minimal cleaning possible. Older buildings – How many new HS are built in a decade in a … Read More

    Is anyone in, from or with children in public schools really surprised at these data? Elementary schools generally have smaller populations than secondary schools. Students do not move from a dedicated classroom through multiple subjects often 8-10 or more times daily with different groups in each room and typically 3-6 minutes between classes in crowded halls with minimal cleaning possible.

    Older buildings – How many new HS are built in a decade in a district? – have more ventilation issues. (One city teacher in CA commented recently that no one – including facility staff- has been able to get windows to open in her class room in 5 years. Another talks about there being no soap or toilet paper in kids’ restrooms by early afternoon.) So with just these minimal examples, there’s school structure, support for cleaning and ventilation, and stability of student groups, A secondary teacher may see and teach 125 or more different students from all geographic parts of a district in their classroom daily, or be traveling themselves across the school to those classrooms.

    Resources to improve ventilation to safety levels needed; space and fewer students in classes, highly increased cleaning staff as well as increased mental health and wellness resources, plus tutoring and other added academic supports are in more affluent schools and neighborhoods, and that has translated more often than not to private schools or to public schools in affluent and largely white communities in the Bay Area and beyond.

    I’m guessing that others await the state and local support monies from Biden’s American Rescue Plan to complete improvement projects they need and have started. In NYC schools, many fewer Black and other students of color returned from closings; data cited trust – that all could be made safe – as a primary factor in patents sitting out.

  8. SDUHSD-Watchdog 3 months ago3 months ago

    It is time we put the elephant on the table. Not teachers but the political machine that is the teacher’s union is re-shaping education because the power is too strong locally. We need to push union politics to Sacramento. We can all agree the teachers union is not going away but we can limit their reach into local education matters. 1) Make teachers state employees, determine pay schedules at the state level … Read More

    It is time we put the elephant on the table. Not teachers but the political machine that is the teacher’s union is re-shaping education because the power is too strong locally. We need to push union politics to Sacramento. We can all agree the teachers union is not going away but we can limit their reach into local education matters.

    1) Make teachers state employees, determine pay schedules at the state level and take teacher pay and benefit issues out of local board control

    2) do not allow unions or any PAC to contribute to local school board elections. School boards are supposed to be politically neutral.

    3) institute term limits on all CA school board seats. Public School in CA is important to the future success of our state and our Country. We are educating over 6 million young citizens a year.