On Dec. 30, 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $2 billion “Safe Schools for All” plan to encourage more schools to reopen for in-person instruction in 2021. For latest details on the plan issued by the Newsom administration, check out the Safe Schools for All Hub, published on Jan. 14, 2021. The following answers some key questions on how the plan is intended to operate.
What is the rationale for the plan?
The Newsom administration believes that “in-person is the best setting to meet not only the core learning needs of students, but also their mental health and social-emotional needs.”
At the same time, his administration contends that safety is “foundational,” and that “the right precautions can effectively stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools — especially in elementary schools.”
Will it be safe to bring students back?
Gov. Newsom believes it is safe to bring students back to school, starting with the earliest grades, if health and safety practices are implemented and followed.
In a statement accompanying the plan, the administration argued the following:
- Research across the globe shows that children get COVID-19 less often than adults, and when they do get sick, they get less sick than adults.
- In studies of open schools in America and around the world, children do not seem to be major sources of transmission — either to each other or to adults.
- The growing body of evidence is particularly strong for lower risks associated with elementary schools.
- Even in communities with many Covid cases, we do not see many outbreaks in schools. That’s because the right precautions can stop outbreaks before they start.
Will Newsom need legislative approval?
Yes, for some parts of the plan, and specifically for the $2 billion he wants to offer to districts as an inducement to open schools. He will seek “early action” by the Legislature to approve the plan so it can go into effect during the current school year.
What is the current state of the plan?
As of Feb. 18, only parts of the plan are in effect, including allowing schools to open for in-person instruction for K-6 grades if they have an average daily rate of 25 new cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 residents in their counties, and a positivity test rate of less than 8%. As of Feb. 18, the $2 billion he had sought has not been approved. Newsom is currently negotiating with the Legislature over his plan, as well as Assembly Bill 10, which is also intended to encourage schools to reopen this spring.
What incentives would there be for districts to participate if legislators agree to ?
As announced by Newsom, districts would receive additional funding pending approval by the Legislature: a base amount of $450 per student if they filed their application to participation by Feb. 1 for K-12 students, or $337 per student if they filed it by March 1 for grades 3 to 6, plus an additional amount per student based on the number of high needs students (low income students, English learners, foster and homeless children) in their district, as defined by the Local Control Funding Formula. Gov. Newsom said that the extra amount could be as much as $250 per student in addition to the base amount. However, the Feb. 1 deadline passed without Legislative approval, and as noted above Newsom is still negotiating with lawmakers in the Legislature, and the future of this part of the Safe Schools for All plan is up in the air as of Feb. 2.
Would the funds, if approved, extend to all children in all grades?
The financial incentives would go to school districts that offer in-person instruction to children in grades K through 6, plus transitional kindergarten.
The California Department of Public Health issued the following documents:
Safe Schools for All Hub, Jan. 14, 2020.
Guidance for Schools in California, CDPH, Jan. 14, 2020.
Summary: California’s Safe School for All Plan, CDPH, Dec. 2020
Rationale: California’s Safe School for All Plan, CDPH, Dec. 2020
Slide Presentation, Dec. 30, 2020. Contains details not included in above documents.
Gov. Newsom issued the following statement on Dec. 30, 2020:
Statement from governor’s office, Dec. 30, 2020.
Can all schools participate?
Only schools in counties with fewer than an average of 25 new positive coronavirus cases per 100,000 population per day in their counties can open for regular in-person instruction for K-6 grades, and less than 7 new cases per 100,000 for grades 7-12. Schools must also have a test positivity rate of less than 8%. As of Feb 11, 47 counties had rates of less than 25. up from 37 during the preceding work.
Would school districts have to do anything extra to receive the funds?
Yes. Everyone in a school — both adults and children — would have to be tested for the virus on a regular basis, even those who had no symptoms. For districts in counties with less than an average of 14 positive cases per 100,000, everyone would have to be tested every two weeks. In districts with a higher incidence rate, everyone would have to be tested weekly.
Everyone would be expected to wear masks. But school staff would be required to wear surgical masks, which would be distributed to schools at no cost by the state.
Where would funds to pay for the program come from?
They would come out of extra state funding allocated for K-12 schools through the Proposition 98 formula that will be available as a result of an unexpected budget surplus this year. The funding will be included in the budget proposal Newsom is required to make by Jan. 10 for the coming fiscal year.
Would districts receive funds only for the students attending in-person classes?
No. Districts receive the base amount plus whatever additional amount they would receive in supplemental or concentration based on average daily attendance in the 2019-20 year for the entire school or district, not just for children in the grades where in-person instruction is offered. However, districts must use the funds for the students in the grades in which they are offering in-person instruction.
What do districts have to do to open their schools?
Districts must submit a Covid-19 Safety Plan to local and state health authorities. Local health authorities have five days to approve or disapprove the plan.
Would schools in counties in the so-called “purple” tier be allowed to reopen?
Yes, as long as the average daily rate of infections is under 25 positive cases per 100,000 residents for K-6 grades, and under 7 for grades 7 to 12.
Would children have to attend schools that reopen?
No. Schools will still have to offer distance learning for parents who don’t want their children to receive in-person instruction.
What about middle and high school students?
As before, schools can reopen if their counties are not in the purple tier, meaning they have to have an average new case rate of less than 7 per 100,000, and a test positivity rating of less than 8 percent. Middle and high school students can still receive on campus services if they participate in small group classes, learning labs and support centers intended for foster, homeless and other students with the greatest needs.
Who will pay for Covid-19 testing?
The private health plans that employees already have as well as MediCal for those enrolled in the program are supposed to cover the costs of testing. For individuals who don’t have private insurance or are not enrolled in MediCal, schools districts will presumably have to cover the costs. However, most health plans do not cover asymptomatic testing, so districts will have to cover these costs themselves.
What was the original timeline for the program?
When the program was announced, Gov. Newsom anticipated that beginning on February 15, children in transitional kindergarten through 2d grade, could begin attending in-person classes, and those in grades 3-6 could do so by March 15. By Feb. 1, districts were expected to submit a Covid-19 Safety Plan, referred to generally as a CSP, that included meeting Cal/OSHA regulations. However, this timeline has been rendered moot for now, because the Legislature has yet to approve this portion of the plan.
Would a county’s rate of infection have to be below 25 positive cases per 100,000 resident before a school or district could apply to participate?
No. A district could apply for the funds, and only start using those funds when their positive cases fell below 25 cases per 100,000.
What happens if a district didn’t apply by Feb. 1?
Districts could apply by March 1, for opening by March 15. However, they would not get the full base grant of $450 per person, but rather would get a$337.50 per student. However, this aspect of the plan is up in the air, pending negotiations with the Legislature.
How much support and opposition has there been to t0 the plan?
In general, the plan received considerable support from some superintendents, professional associations and advocacy groups. However, several superintendents raised questions about the feasibility of implementing some health and safety practices, including the costs and logistics of testing that would involve testing of both staff and students.
What position have the two leading unions taken on the plan?
The California Teachers Association expressed lukewarm support for the proposal. “There are many unanswered questions and the devil is always in the details,” said CTA President E. Toby Boyd. He said that the union continues to support in-person instruction, but not in schools in counties that are still on the “purple” Tier One list. “If teachers’ local unions adopt that stance, and counties are still on the “purple” list come February 15, it is unlikely that districts will be able to participate in the reopening plan,” Boyd said.
Jeff Freitas, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said the plan “is the starting point our state and its schools need to consider for in-person instruction,” but said that schools need to be “funded at a level that supports needed testing, tracing, PPE and high-quality instruction.”
As for other school workers, Max Arias, Executive Director of SEIU Local 99, said, “we look forward to moving safely and with due caution to more and more in-person instruction.”
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