California education news: What’s the latest?

Monday, August 2, 2021, 9:42am

Link copied.National polarized politics filtering down to local school board meetings

If your local school board meetings are becoming more uncivil and politicized, you’re not alone. They appear part of a national trend.

“Board meetings, far from being quiet, by-the-books affairs, have turned into to ground zero of the nation’s political and cultural debates,” writes Education Week writer Stephen Sawchuk in an analysis.

Local disagreements on masking mandates, school reopenings and ethnic studies content have taken on the tenor and rhetoric of national partisan divides. That’s not unique to 2021 — there were tensions over loyalty oaths against Communism during the 1950s, dress codes in the 1960s and the adoption of Common Core standards in some districts a decade ago, Sawchuk observed. But the influence of social media and a decline of  local newspapers, with a loss of schools coverage, are changing the public’s perceptions of local schools, education analyists told Sawchuk.  Research by University of Pennsylvania political science professor Daniel Hopkins indicates that people have turned to national media sources that align with their own views and interests.

It’s unclear how this will play out, Sawchuk said, and whether it will discourage incumbent school board members to run again and prompt narrow-interest candidates to run for the job. “But it will almost certainly complicate board members’ and superintendents’ jobs this fall,” Sawchuk wrote. “They’ll need to balance conceptual debates over race and equity with the tangible responsibilities of spending significant amounts of federal cash and adjusting yet again to a rise in Covid-19 cases.”

Sawchuk noted that Ballotpedia has identified 55 attempted recalls targeting 140 school board members this year — a significant increase. In California, according to Ballotpedia, these include efforts in Benicia Unified, Fremont Union High School District, Chico Unified, Lucia Mar Unified, Mount Diablo Unified, and San Francisco Unified. All of the efforts reflect frustration over decisions on when to reopen schools during the pandemic.

John Fensterwald

Monday, August 2, 2021, 9:38am

Link copied.Clovis parents can seek mask exemptions without doctor’s note

Parents will have the option to exempt their children from wearing masks when students return to school this year, Clovis Unified trustees voted Thursday. Parents or staff can request the exemption at their local school if they believe the mask would harm a student medically, or if students are hearing impaired or experiencing other relevant mental health issues.

The move comes amid both rising Covid-19 cases as well as ongoing pushback against requirements such as mask-wearing in Republic strongholds across the state.

But now, district trustees worry that some parents might lie in order to send their kids back to school without a mask.

“I’m hoping that people don’t use this mask exemption just because they don’t want to wear a mask,” Clovis Unified trustee Steven Fogg said during Thursday’s meeting. “I don’t think that’s what it’s really designed for.”
Sydney Johnson

Monday, August 2, 2021, 9:37am

Link copied.Lack of extensive data hampers understanding of pandemic’s impact, researchers say

Eleven of the nation’s leading education researchers who evaluated a dozen studies of student performance during the pandemic have concluded that students “lagged pre-pandemic expectations by an amount roughly equivalent to several months of learning in a typical year.” Their report, issued last week by the Seattle-based Center on Reinventing Public Education, corroborated the loss of learning documented in end-of-school test results released by the consulting firm McKinsey and the assessment organization NWEA.

While the impact was generally greater in math than in reading, reading fluency and literacy skill in the early grades were negatively impacted substantially, the report said. Low-income students were more adversely affected than wealthier families, and Black and Hispanic students were more affected than white students. Impact on Asian-American students varied across studies, the report said.

But the center’s report cautioned that extensive data was scarce, in part because Covid disrupted regular testing. Compounding the problem, larger proportions of low-income, Black and Hispanic students didn’t participate in the tests. As a result, the pandemic’s already noticeable negative impact on those students may be understated.

Also missing, the researchers said, was a lack of data on high school achievement, progress on subjects beyond math and reading, differences by gender and a lack of information on English learners, students with disabilities, homeless and foster children.

A critical but unanswered question, the researchers said, is whether the lags in achievement for most students will be “transitory, persistent, or — in the worst case scenario — compounding.” The latter would occur if the gaps in skills affect the rate of future growth in achievement, they said.

To prevent that, they recommended that “educators and policymakers should be especially focused on ensuring students have intensive support, as soon as possible, in math and early literacy.”

The researchers included Julian Betts of UC San Diego, Andrew Ho of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Susanna Loeb of Annenberg Institute at Brown University. Professor Martin West of Harvard University and Robin Lake, executive director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, co-chaired the effort, which will include an analysis on the social and emotional effects of the pandemic.

John Fensterwald

Monday, August 2, 2021, 9:31am

Link copied.Tortilla-throwing incident was not isolated, San Diego athletes say

Former non-white Coronado athletes say a racist incident where the Coronado High School basketball team threw tortillas at players at an opposing team with more Latino students isn’t a surprise and matches many of their own experiences at the the majority-white and wealthy school.

According to the Voice of San Diego, several former athletes said they don’t feel welcome on campus at their alma mater. They said they support efforts to hold those involved accountable, including implementing racial sensitivity training for administrators and school staff.

“Students were more abrasive towards me as a Black woman,” said Imani Ware, who played soccer at Coronado. “I was different than their Coronado community.”

Back in 2015, Jasmine Goodson, who identifies as a biracial Black and Costa Rican student, wrote an open letter in her school’s newspaper condemning the school’s lack of action around racism that she experienced.

“Being a person of color at a predominately white school, in all aspects, is hard, not just because of discrimination, but because you will automatically feel different,” she wrote. “You will be set to a certain standard of beauty that requires you to ‘tame’ your hair, have a slimmer nose, or thinner lips, all of which I have been teased about.”

Sydney Johnson

Friday, July 30, 2021, 10:59am

Link copied.LAUSD will require Covid-19 testing for all students, staff

Regardless of their vaccination status, staff and students in Los Angeles Unified will be required to participate in weekly Covid-19 testing this school year, Superintendent Megan K. Reilly said a letter to parents on Thursday.

Previously, the district planned to required coronavirus testing only for staff and students who are unvaccinated.

The shift in policy comes as Covid-19 rates and the Delta variant continue to rise in Los Angeles County and beyond. While students have the option to participate in remote learning in Los Angeles Unified this fall, state and district leaders are urging families to return to in-person instruction after a troubling year of distance learning that left many students unaccounted for.
“We are closely monitoring evolving health conditions and adapting our response in preparation for our full return to in-person learning on August 16,” Reilly said in the letter. Baseline testing for students returning to campus begins Aug. 2, she added.
Sydney Johnson

Wednesday, July 28, 2021, 4:21pm

Link copied.San Jose Unified to require staff to be vaccinated or tested twice weekly for Covid

Following the lead of Gov. Gavin Newsom for state employees, San Jose Unified announced Wednesday all staff must be vaccinated for Covid-19 for the return to school next month, or agree to be tested twice weekly.

San Jose Unified will also mandate that students and staff wear masks not only inside of school buildings, as required under current state public health regulations, but also outside on school grounds.

At Los Angeles Unified, the largest school district in the state, students and employees who have not received a Covid-19 vaccine will be required to test for the coronavirus on a weekly basis during the school year until further notice. Fully vaccinated students and employees will not be required to undergo Covid-19 testing. Both testing and vaccination sites will remain available for L.A. Unified students, employees, and their families, according to a district reference guide for families.

“With that being said, we are in constant communication, with the Department of Public Health,” said Dr. Smita Malhotra, the district’s medical director. “And as things change, as certain policies change, we will be updating our students and staff and families accordingly. Again, it’s a fluid situation but unvaccinated students and employees will be tested weekly.” Regardless of vaccination status, everyone on school grounds will be required to wear a mask at all times except when eating.

On Monday, Newsom announced that health care workers and state employees must prove they have been vaccinated or undergo weekly testing, starting in August. On Tuesday, California State University Chancellor Joseph Castro announced the same policy for students, faculty and other employees of the 23-campus system.

San Jose Unified spokeswoman Jennifer Maddox told the Mercury News that 90% of the district’s teachers have been vaccinated. The district chose twice weekly surveillance testing to enable quarantining for those who test positive as quickly as possible. Surveillance tests will be available but not required for students, she said.

She said the district hopes the new policy will encourage others to agree to vaccinations.

John Fensterwald

Wednesday, July 28, 2021, 4:20pm

Link copied.California gets $74 million in federal funds to help homeless students

California schools will receive more than $74 million in federal money to serve homeless students, the U.S. Department of Education announced Wednesday.

The money is part of the American Rescue Plan’s Homeless Children and Youth program, an $800 million fund to help youth who’ve experienced homelessness during the pandemic. The Department of Education distributed the first $200 million in April and the remaining $600 million on Wednesday. California’s total portion is $98 million, more than any other state.

Schools can use the money to improve the way they identify homeless students, as well as provide them services such as transportation to school, counseling, housing vouchers, school supplies and other amenities.

“Even before the coronavirus pandemic highlighted and exacerbated inequities in America’s education system, students experiencing homelessness faced numerous challenges as they strove to learn and achieve in school each day,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “Amid Covid-19 and the transition to remote and hybrid learning, for so many students, these challenges intensified. As a nation, we must do everything we can to ensure that all students — including students experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity — are able to access an excellent education.”

Carolyn Jones

Wednesday, July 28, 2021, 11:12am

Link copied.Governor pulls kids from summer camp that doesn’t require face masks

California Gov. Gavin Newsom took two of his children out of a summer school program they were enrolled in because it did not require face masks, reported the Associated Press Tuesday.

Newsom and his wife were not aware the summer camp would not require face coverings indoors, a violation of state policy, according to the governor’s office. The coupled missed an email from the summer camp saying face coverings would not be mandated, according to the article.

Two of the couple’s four children began attending the summer camp Monday, but were pulled out after the Newsoms saw children at the school indoors without masks.

The state mandates that students and staff wear masks indoors while at school.

Diana Lambert

Wednesday, July 28, 2021, 11:11am

Link copied.CDC changes mask guidance again as Covid rates increase

The Centers for Disease Control changed course Tuesday and recommended that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with “substantial” or “high”  transmission rates.

Forty-six of the state’s counties are in this range, according to CDC data.

California already mandates that students and staff wear masks inside.

The Centers for Disease Control also recommended that vaccinated and unvaccinated people wear masks if they are living in households with people who are immunocompromised or who are at risk for severe illness if they are exposed to Covid-19.

The CDC made the decision to change its guidance — which had only asked unvaccinated people to remain masked — after Covid-19 cases increased 300 percent nationally between June 19 and July 23.

“The delta variant is more than two times as transmissible as the original strains circulating at the start of the pandemic and is causing large, rapid increases in infections, which could compromise the capacity of some local and regional health care systems to provide medical care for the communities they serve,” according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Diana Lambert

Tuesday, July 27, 2021, 3:13pm

Link copied.CalSTRS announces one-year rate of return on investments of 27%

CalSTRS on Monday reported a one-year 27% return on investments for the year ending June 30, quadruple the target 7% annual return that the pension fund serving California teachers and administrators builds into investment assumptions.

The gains were fueled by a 42% gain in publicly traded stocks, which make up half of CalSTRS’ investment portfolio, and a 52% gain in private equities, which comprise 12% of the total.

“We’ve built our portfolio for long-term performance, but this year’s results were nothing short of spectacular,” said Chief Investment Officer Christopher J. Ailman. “These are record-breaking numbers — the highest returns we’ve seen since the late 1980s.”

The $63 billion increase in value raised the level of assets to $309 billion, 25% above a year ago and double what it was a decade ago, according to a news release.

CalSTRS, the nation’s second-largest public employee pension system, serving 975,000 members, is still recovering from a precarious financial position — a combination of increased pension benefits granted by the Legislature two decades ago plus plummeting stock market and real estate values during the Great Recession. In 2009, the value of assets fell to $118 billion.

That led to legislation in 2012 laying out a series of increases that more than doubled annual pension contributions by school districts, which was needed to achieve full funding by 2046. CalSTRS has not yet recalibrated the impact of this year’s record return on its ability to meet long-term obligations. A year ago, assets had reached 67% of full funding.

By comparison, CalPERS, which covers state employees and classified school workers, such as teacher’s aides and bus drivers, recorded a 21% rate of return for the year ending June 30. That increase raised its asset value from 71% to 82% of full funding.

John Fensterwald

Tuesday, July 27, 2021, 1:29pm

Link copied.Cardona says schools must work harder to convince families to return

Schools across the United States will need to “work twice as hard” to convince some families to return their children to school in the fall, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona told The 74 in an interview.

Cardona said that level of effort will be necessary to rebuild trust with those families after a school year of mostly distance learning and delays to reopening in-person classrooms, The 74 reported.

He said he’s confident “everyone wants to return back to school and that schools are doing their best to get students back in,” but added that “in some places it wasn’t quick enough for some families.”

“What we have to ensure is that we’re following the guidelines to make sure that our schools are safe and that we’re engaging our students and families in ways that we haven’t in the past,” Cardona said.

Michael Burke

Tuesday, July 27, 2021, 11:57am

Link copied.Only proponent of ethnic studies drops out of Orange County forum

The sole advocate for ethnic studies has dropped out of a forum on the subject organized by the Orange County Board of Education one day ahead of the 3-hour event Tuesday evening event, leaving only critics and skeptics as panelists.

Theresa Montaño, a professor of Chicana/Chicano Studies professor at Cal State Northridge, said in a press release that an unbalanced panel would not lead to an open dialogue. “Not a single person on this panel is a dedicated expert in, nor in my judgement thoroughly knowledgeable about, Ethnic Studies curriculum. In fact, my research reveals that all the panelists are vehemently opposed to Ethnic Studies and have made their positions on the topic clear,” she said in a statement.

Montaño is co-author two years ago of the first draft of the state’s model ethnic studies curriculum, which was substantially rewritten over four drafts before the State Board of Education passed it in March. She and the other writers of the original draft complained that the adopted version watered down the content and have disavowed it. She is a proponent of the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum.

“I’m disappointed we’re hearing the day before that she’s not going to participate. I think the credentials of the other panelists speak for themselves,” Tim Shaw, a trustee on the board, told the Voice of Orange County.

The forum, the first of two on ethnic studies and on critical race theory, a much-debated approach of viewing racism ingrained in law and government institutions, will run from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Panelists will include:

The event will be streamed live on YouTube.

John Fensterwald

Tuesday, July 27, 2021, 11:12am

Link copied.Schools can spend their federal funds to pay for ventilation upgrades

Schools can use their American Rescue Plan funds to improve air quality in classrooms, the U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday.

Schools can use their federal funds to upgrade ventilation systems, purchase filters and fans, make repairs, conduct inspections and tests, and take other steps to improve air quality as students return to in-person classes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, indoor air ventilation can curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The U.S. Department of Education, in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control, also released guidelines for improving air quality in schools.

“Protecting our schools and communities from the spread of Covid-19 is the first step in bringing more students back to in-person learning and reemerging from this crisis even stronger than we were before,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “With the American Rescue Plan, schools and districts now have access to unprecedented resources that will enable them to ensure proper ventilation and maintain healthy learning and working environments.”

Carolyn Jones

Monday, July 26, 2021, 4:36pm

Link copied.FDA requests that coronavirus vaccine trials include more children

Federal regulators from the Food and Drug Administration have requested that Pfizer and Moderna increase the number of children in their testing trials, signaling a potential delay in the availability of Covid-19 vaccines for children under the age of 12, according to the Washington Post. Some experts and government officials have signaled that a coronavirus vaccine for children might become available by early fall, but the timeline remains unclear.

The federal agency made the request to determine if myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, might be more common among younger children who receive the vaccine. The condition is more likely to develop in adolescents who have received a coronavirus vaccine, though it remains rare and the risk is low.

Moderna’s original trials included 7,000 children, and Pfizer’s original trial size was 4,500 children. Both trials included children ages 6 months to 12 years. It is unclear how many more children will be joining the trials.

Betty Márquez Rosales

Monday, July 26, 2021, 4:11pm

Link copied.Children with long-term Covid can qualify for special education, U.S. Department of Education says

Children with long-term symptoms of Covid-19 may be eligible for special education services and other classroom accommodations, according to federal guidelines released Monday.

In its announcement, the U.S. Department of Education said that schools must provide extra services for children who are experiencing fatigue, dizziness, difficulty concentrating or other symptoms for at least four weeks after they were initially infected with the coronavirus. Colleges and universities also must provide accommodations for students with long-term Covid.

Although the condition is rare, children can experience long-term Covid symptoms even if they were initially asymptomatic.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Justice have also issued guidelines on long-term Covid as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Today’s resource is part of the Office of Civil Rights’ and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services’ sustained efforts to affirmatively advance equity, civil rights, and equal opportunity for students,” according to the Department of Education.

Carolyn Jones

Monday, July 26, 2021, 11:49am

Link copied.Teachers, school staff exempt from new state vaccination policy

Teachers and school staff are not included in a new state policy announced Monday requiring all state employees and health care workers to either show proof of full vaccination or be tested at least once a week.

Teachers and school staff are not state employees, Gov. Gavin Newsom clarified at Monday’s news conference in Oakland, and, thus, the state will not require them to show proof of vaccination. However, state officials are encouraging all employers, both in the private and public sectors, to adopt a similar vaccination verification policy.

The Centers for Disease Control encourages K-12 administrators to keep documentation of students’ and workers’ Covid-19 vaccination status in order to inform prevention strategies. The California Department of Public Health alluded to the CDC’s recommendation in its July 12 guidance on Covid-19 safety for K-12 schools.

Ali Tadayon

Monday, July 26, 2021, 10:18am

Link copied.California voters are split on requiring masks and vaccinations in school

Californians are divided on whether vaccinated students and teachers should be required to wear masks in the classroom, according to a new poll.

The survey of 1,000 registered voters by the Inside California Politics/Emerson College statewide poll found that 45% of respondents said vaccinated students and teachers should be required to wear masks in the classroom, while 40% said no, and 15% of respondents were unsure or had no opinion. The results were reported by KTLA 5 and other stations for whom the survey was done.

Earlier this month, the California Department of Public Health issued regulations requiring masks for all students and staff inside school buildings this fall, although it has left enforcement up to local districts.

The survey found a similar split on whether the Covid vaccine should be mandated for middle school and high school students over the age of 12: 52% in favor and 49% opposed. The federal Food and Drug Administration has granted Emergency Use Authorization of the vaccine while it continues a review for formal authorization.

Voters were similarly split on resuming a statewide indoor mask mandate, with 49% backing the requirement, 39% opposed and 12% unsure.

With the vote on recalling Gov. Gavin Newsom six weeks away, 43% respondents said they would vote to recall Newsom, and 48% say they would vote to keep him in office with 9% undecided.

The poll was taken from July 19-21 with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9%.

John Fensterwald

Monday, July 26, 2021, 10:16am

Link copied.Parents, be on the lookout for grade-change form on your district’s website

If they haven’t done so already, school districts will have until July 31 to post on their websites the form that parents or guardians can fill out if they want to change a high school student’s grade or grades from last year to a pass or no pass grade.

Parents of high school students have the right to request the grade change for courses they took in 2020-21 under Assembly Bill 104, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, D-San Diego, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed on July 1. It took effect right away, as “urgency” legislation.

Some districts already agreed to offer pass or no pass, as they did in the spring of 2020, following the initial disruption of school due to Covid-19. In districts that didn’t, parents should be alert for the form. Under the new law, they will have only 15 calendar days after a district posts the request form to send it to their district. After that, it will be too late.

Last week, the California Department of Education published the application, which most districts are expected to adopt.

Gonzalez said the bill was necessary in order not to punish students for the impact of a pandemic. “Kids who struggled with distance learning during the pandemic shouldn’t be penalized for falling behind during such a difficult year,” she said in a statement. The law also enables parents to meet with their child’s principal and teacher to discuss the option of repeating the year — a choice that many districts will discourage as harmful to a student — and waives graduation prerequisites for 2020-21 in those districts where course requirements exceed the state minimum.

AB 104 also requires that California State University accept pass or no pass grades on a student’s transcript for courses taken in 2020–21 and requests the University of California and private colleges to accept pass or no pass. A list of CSU and private universities that have agreed to do so can be found here.

John Fensterwald

Monday, July 26, 2021, 10:13am

Link copied.State lottery will contribute about 1% of total school revenue this year

The California State Comptroller estimates that the California State Lottery will generate $244 per student for 2020-21 — a record amount but also a reminder how little the lottery contributes as a portion of the total for TK-12 funding. In 2019-20, it was $191 per student.

This year, the state is estimating per-student funding from the lottery will drop to $228 per student, according to an analysis by School Services of California, a school consulting firm. That will represent about 1.1% of the estimated $21,152 of total funding per student from state, federal and local sources in 2021-22.

For years, the lottery has contributed between 1% and 2% of school revenue. That’s less than most Californians have been led to assume; over the years, the lottery pitched contributions to education as part of its marketing strategy.

Californians passed the lottery in 1984. In an analysis two years ago, the Legislative Analyst’s Office noted that the proceeds spent on prizes have eaten a bigger portion of revenue at education’s expense. While distributions to education have risen, the percent of lottery sales revenue to education dropped from about a third in 2009-10 to less than a quarter in 2017-18. By contrast, the portion going to prizes increased from about half to slightly less than two-thirds.  In 2017-18, K-12 received $216 per student from total lottery revenue for education of $1.4 billion.

Of the money going to education, about 77% goes to TK-12, 15% to community colleges and the rest divided between the University of California and California State University.

About 30% of the money for TK-12 is apportioned to districts for instructional materials, which they now can spend on computers; districts have flexibility to spend the rest.

In its analysis, the LAO noted that 44 states and Washington, D.C., run lotteries; 29 states returned a greater percentage of revenue to beneficiaries, which included schools in some states.

John Fensterwald

Friday, July 23, 2021, 1:03pm

Link copied.Tech support and broadband for all are part of next phase for Oakland students and families

Oakland Undivided, a partnership of nonprofits, the City of Oakland and Oakland Unified, has achieved an initial target to close the digital divide: 98% of Oakland’s low-income public school children will start the school year with a computer and working internet at home, compared with 12% before the pandemic. The nonprofit raised $13 million to distribute 25,000 Chromebooks and internet hotspots, it said.

But, with the resumption of in-person instruction next month, the organization will shift to the next stage, not close up shop, the news site Oaklandside reported.

“This is a great first step, but we have a lot more to do,” Oakland Unified Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said.

The next steps include maintaining an inventory of laptops for all schools to have laptops on hand and providing tech support for families.

Through Sydewayz Cafe, an Oakland information technology business, the parent advocacy group The Oakland REACH has offered tech support to hundreds of families in its virtual family hub. In the fall, it will give students and families more intensive training in technology, Executive Director Lakisha Young told Oaklandside.

That will be critical as a third of The Oakland REACH parents polled said they hadn’t decided whether to return to school or pursue a remote learning independent study option that Oakland Unified and other districts must offer as an option, Young said.

Young said the next phase should be to replace hot spots with more reliable and powerful broadband through the city. “Hotspots are not connectivity, they’re back-up connectivity. If we’re going to set folks up, they have to have broadband. Without that, there will keep being a deficit around technology.”

OakWifi, a city initiative, is providing free Wifi in parts of the city through fiber optic cables, lying next to city transit lines, that can reach homes and businesses within a radius of 1,200 feet. The next phase is to extend Wi-Fi to more neighborhoods though interconnected wireless nodes at schools and city facilities.

John Fensterwald

Friday, July 23, 2021, 12:11pm

Link copied.Parent groups sue California over school mask rules

Two California parent groups filed a lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday following updated guidelines from state health officials to have students wear face masks at school when they return in person this fall.

Let Them Breathe and Reopen California Schools filed the lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court against the governor, along with State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomas Aragón, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly and Dr. Naomi Bardach, an advisor to the state on school pandemic safety, according to the Mercury News.

The complaint alleges that the state masking rules for all students regardless of vaccination status is not based on scientific research and can impede education.

All K-12 students and adults in K-12 school settings are required to wear masks indoors when students are present. But it’s up to local schools or districts to determine how to handle students who refuse to comply with the mask rules. The school guidance from the California Department of Public Health also aligns with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“A return to a normal school year is crucial to the mental and physical health recovery for students across California who have endured months of isolation,” said Jonathan Zachreson, founder of Reopen California Schools, an advocacy organization of nearly 16,000 California public school parents.

Sydney Johnson

Friday, July 23, 2021, 11:14am

Link copied.California fourth graders and families will have free access to state parks

California will soon offer free annual passes to 19 state parks for fourth-grade students and their families.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 148 Thursday, establishing the California State Park Adventure Pass program. The program is scheduled to begin by Sept. 21.

“Nature is a public good and a crucial public health tool,” said First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who championed the program. “For adults and children alike, quality time in nature is good for our hearts, minds, and bodies, No state is better positioned than California to leverage the great outdoors to augment our communities’ health and well-being — especially for youth in underserved communities.”

The federal government has the Every Kid Outdoors Program, which allows families with fourth graders free access to federal parks.

Earlier this month Newsom signed legislation approving $5.6 million to fund the parks program, as well as an additional $3 million to establish the State Library Park Pass, which allows individuals to check out a day-use state park pass from a library for free.

 

 

 

 

Diana Lambert

Thursday, July 22, 2021, 7:16pm

Link copied.Seven Covid-19 cases reported in vaccinated Stanford students

Seven Stanford University students tested positive for the coronavirus this week, despite being vaccinated.

The Bay Area private university announced Thursday in an email to students that the infected students were symptomatic. However, it didn’t offer details about whether the cases were connected or part of an outbreak, according to The Mercury News

Stanford recommends that everyone wear face coverings in indoor spaces, despite most physical distancing and masking requirements being lifted for fully vaccinated people. The university also requires face coverings in campus spaces that are open to the public, such as the Stanford Bookstore. According to the university, students who have submitted proof of vaccination are no longer required to get tested weekly. Nearly 90% of people visiting the campus regularly are vaccinated.

Ashley A. Smith

Thursday, July 22, 2021, 4:04pm

Link copied.Clovis Unified board meeting draws anti-mask protesters

Dozens of parents protested outside the Clovis Unified district board meeting Wednesday night demanding that district trustees not adhere to state-mandated mask requirements, according to the Fresno Bee.

Board members called for the state to allow local officials to decide whether masks should be required in their schools, according to the article.

New Covid-19 cases are increasing in the central San Joaquin Valley. More than 100 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 Wednesday, a two-month high, according to the newspaper.

Diana Lambert

Thursday, July 22, 2021, 11:25am

Link copied.Grand jury says it’s Stockton Unified board’s fault superintendents won’t stay

Stockton Unified’s school board is to blame for the constant turnover of superintendents in the school district, according to a grand jury report released Wednesday.

The 2020-21 San Joaquin County Grand Jury launched an investigation into the school district after it received numerous complaints from members of the public and reviewed media accounts of conflicts within the district, according to a press release from the grand jury.

The district has had 14 superintendents — interim and permanent — in the last 30 years, according to the Stockton Record. The average tenure has been 19 months. The district has had three superintendents in the last year, according to the newspaper.

The constant change in leadership at the district has made it impossible to increase student achievement in the district, according to the grand jury. It also has made it possible for board members to act inappropriately and to sometimes exceed the limits of their authority, according to the report.

The grand jury is recommending that the school board publicly commit to change, adhere to standards of governance and provide transparency and accountability to the public.

Diana Lambert

Tuesday, July 20, 2021, 4:16pm

Link copied.Newsom signs $6 billion broadband infrastructure bill

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed California’s historic $6 billion broadband bill into law on Tuesday, securing a future for one of the country’s largest investments into internet infrastructure.

“As we work to build California back stronger than before, the state is committed to addressing the challenges laid bare by the pandemic, including the digital divide holding back too many communities in a state renowned for its pioneering technology and innovation economy,” Newsom said on Tuesday from Traver Joint Elementary in Tulare County, where many rural districts struggled to connect students to the internet during distance learning.

Like many schools serving low-income students this past year, Traver Joint Elementary distributed Wi-Fi hotspots so students could access distance learning programs during the pandemic. But even hotspots could be a weak solution in areas that don’t receive strong cell service or in households where multiple people are using the service.

The broadband package includes the following:

  • $3.25 billion to build, operate and maintain an open access, state-owned middle mile network;
  • $2 billion to set up last-mile broadband connections that will connect homes and businesses with local networks;
  • $750 million for a loan loss reserve fund so local governments and nonprofits can secure financing for broadband;
  • Creation of a broadband czar position at the California Department of Technology.

“This $6 billion investment will make broadband more accessible than ever before, expanding opportunity across the spectrum for students, families and businesses — from enhanced educational supports to job opportunities to health care and other essential services,” Newsom said.

Sydney Johnson

Tuesday, July 20, 2021, 1:21pm

Link copied.Long Beach Unified elects new board president

The Long Beach Unified School District’s Board of Education has elected a new board president.

The board unanimously approved board member Juan Benitez to serve as the president for the upcoming school year, the Long Beach Post reported.

Last year, board member Megan Kerr tried to nominate Benitez as president for this past school year, but that attempt failed. The rest of the board was criticized for not supporting Benitez at the time, including by Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and State Sen. Lena Gonzalez, D-Long Beach, the Post reported.

Following the vote to elect him president on Monday, Benitez thanked outgoing board president Diana Craighead “for serving as president of our board during an extremely challenging year. You took some punches, you handled them always with grace and I think honored our district in your service. I want to thank my colleagues for your vote of confidence.”

Michael Burke

Tuesday, July 20, 2021, 1:20pm

Link copied.San Diego Community College District raises over $2 million for promise program

The San Diego Community College District has now raised more than $2 million to date for its San Diego Promise program, which pays for two years of tuition for eligible students.

The district raised more than $600,000 in the fiscal year ending on June 30 and has now raised over $2 million since the program’s inception in 2016, the district said in a press release.

“All students deserve access to higher education, regardless of their financial situation, and these generous donations will help even more students participate in the San Diego Promise, including veterans, former foster youth, and adult learners returning to school,” Carlos O. Turner Cortez, chancellor of the district, said in a statement. “Fundraising momentum is growing and will continue to grow as more of our region’s residents learn about the impacts this program is having on our community.”

Donations to the program go directly to students. In addition to tuition assistance, the district over the past year also used the money to provide laptops and other supplies to students as they mostly attended  classes from home, district spokesperson Leslie Stump told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Michael Burke

Tuesday, July 20, 2021, 10:57am

Link copied.Thurmond hosts virtual conversation with California teens

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond is inviting California teenagers to meet with him virtually at 3 p.m. Wednesday to discuss vaccinations and their concerns about returning to school in the fall.

Part of supporting the physical and emotional needs of students is allowing them to be heard, according to a press release announcing the event.

The event will be moderated by Rana Banankhah, incoming student member of the California Board of Education. There also will be a recorded message from players with the Golden State Warriors basketball team.

The event will be broadcast live on Facebookand Instagram.

Diana Lambert

Monday, July 19, 2021, 4:36pm

Link copied.San Dieguito Union graduate sues district over classmate’s cyberstalking

A graduate this year of the San Dieguito Union High School District is suing the district for negligence, claiming it failed to protect her from abuse and harassment from another student since middle school that included hacking into the district computer to alter her high school grades.

“It messed with my self-esteem,” Haley Dinsmore told the San Diego Union-Tribune. said. “It made me question my whole life.”

In legal filings, the San Dieguito district denied responsibility or liability, the newspaper reported. But last month the district sued the California-based company that provided its student information system, Aeries Software. The Union-Tribute said the lawsuit alleges Aeries failed to keep students’ information secure and the district seeks to recover any judgments or settlements the district may incur from litigation against it.

Dinsmore may not have been the only student affected by a data breach. Two families filed a class-action lawsuit in May 2020 against Aeries for a data breach that coincides with the timeline of the hacking alleged in Dinsmore’s lawsuit, the Union-Tribune said. According to a court filing, Aeries said that 166 school district databases were exposed to unauthorized access by an individual beginning in November 2019, but the company did not tell school districts about the breach until April 2020.

Dinsmore said the harassment started in middle school when she declined a request for a date by a minor identified only as John Roe in the lawsuit. The boy retaliated by taking over her Instagram account, hacking into her family’s computer, and sending death threats, according to a lawsuit Dinsmore and her parents filed last year against the boy and his parents. When the two were in high school, the lawsuit alleges that John Roe hacked into that school’s student information system and lowered Dinsmore’s grades from A’s to B’s.

Days later, San Dieguito Union High filed a police report and Roe was arrested. Months later, a data breach in San Dieguito became the subject of a class-action lawsuit, the Union-Tribune said.

John Fensterwald

Monday, July 19, 2021, 3:40pm

Link copied.Indiana University vaccination requirement upheld by judge

Indiana University’s requirement that students be vaccinated against Covid-19 was upheld Monday by a federal judge.

The ruling appears to be the first that upholds a university’s coronavirus vaccination mandate, according to The New York Times.

Eight students sued the university, with their lawyer arguing that the requirement violated their constitutional rights and claimed that the university couldn’t require vaccination while the existing vaccines are approved under an emergency use authorization.

The lawyer, James Bopp Jr., said he planned to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, the Times reported.

“The Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty and staff,” Judge Damon R. Leichty of the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana said in Monday’s ruling, according to the Times.

Last week, the University of California finalized its own requirement that students, faculty and staff be vaccinated against Covid-19 regardless of whether one of the vaccines receives full approval from the Food and Drug Administration before the fall terms begin at those campuses.

The state’s other public university system, California State University, is planning to wait for full FDA approval before its own requirement goes into effect. The California Community Colleges system urged faculty, students and staff to be vaccinated but left to the system’s 73 districts to decide whether to require vaccines before they can return to campuses in the fall.

 

Michael Burke

Monday, July 19, 2021, 2:47pm

Link copied.Pediatrics group calls for all students to wear masks in school

Adopting a policy that’s more closely aligned with California’s position and stricter than that of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended Monday that all adults and students over the age of 2 wear a mask while at school.

Universal masking is “the most effective strategy to create consistent messages and expectations among students without the added burden of needing to monitor everyone’s vaccination status,” said Dr. Sara Bode, chair-elect of the AAP Council on School Health Executive Committee, in a statement.

Earlier this month, the CDC issued guidance that called for only students who have not been vaccinated for Covid-19 should be required to wear masks. The California Department of Public Health, however, ruled that all students and staff should wear masks, agreeing with the pediatricians that a universal requirement eliminates the need to monitor who has been vaccinated and would protect individuals who, for various medical reasons, are exempt from the mask mandate. The vaccine is not yet approved for children under 12.

The state’s position also is intended to provide reassurance to parents who have questioned whether it will be safe to resume in-person school amid rapidly rising rates of Covid transmission by the more virulent Delta variant. However, some parent groups have protested the requirement, and at least one group, Reopen Schools California, has threatened to sue.

The California Department of Public Health initially stated that non-exempt students who refuse to wear a mask should not be admitted to school. Within hours, the department  backtracked to continue to leave enforcement of masking to local districts.

With the rise in transmissions this month, Los Angeles became the first county to again require masking immediately in all indoor spaces.

John Fensterwald

Monday, July 19, 2021, 10:40am

Link copied.Chancellor of California’s community colleges to temporarily join Biden administration

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of California’s system of 116 community colleges, will temporarily join the Biden administration as a higher education advisor.

Oakley will begin his role with the Biden administration on July 26 and plans to return to the community college system in late fall, according to an announcement Monday from Pamela Haynes, the president of the Board of Governors overseeing the colleges.

Daisy Gonzales, deputy chancellor of the community college system, will become the system’s acting chancellor.

The statement said Oakley’s temporary assignment in the Biden administration “is a win for California and the nation, providing more opportunity to improve higher education policy and help millions of American families.”

Oakley has been chancellor of the community college system since 2016. Haynes added that Oakley has the full support of the Board of Governors in taking the temporary post with the Biden administration.

Michael Burke

Friday, July 16, 2021, 4:04pm

Link copied.Federal judge orders stop to new DACA applications

A federal judge in Texas ordered the government to stop accepting new applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, on Friday.

The program, which provides temporary protection from deportation and permission to work for hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children, has been the subject of multiple court cases. First instituted in 2012, the Trump administration attempted to end the program in 2017 and first-time applications were not accepted from then until December 2020, when a separate federal judge ordered the government to begin accepting them again.

In a separate court case, Texas and eight other states sued to end DACA, arguing that the Obama administration did not have the legal authority to grant deportation protection and work permits. That case sparked Friday’s order to once again stop accepting new applications, from District Court Judge Andrew Hanen.

The case affects about 300,000 people now eligible to apply for DACA for the first time. To be eligible for DACA, applicants must have come to the U.S. before they turned 16 and have lived here since June 15, 2007, in addition to attending school or having graduated high school and not been convicted of certain crimes.

The judge did not order the government to end DACA for immigrants who currently have the protection.

Zaidee Stavely

Thursday, July 15, 2021, 7:31pm

Link copied.Cal State campuses to provide iPads for up to 35,000 freshman and transfer students

Eight of the 23 California State University campuses will participate in the system’s new CSUCCESS (California State University Connectivity Contributing to Equity and Student Success) initiative to provide up to 35,000 Apple iPad Air devices to first-year and transfer students. Students will also receive an Apple pencil and Apple Smart Keyboard folio as part of the initiative to use for the entirety of their undergraduate experience.

“CSUCCESS will assure that students have immediate access to innovative, new mobile tools they need to support their learning, particularly when faced with the lingering effects of the pandemic,” CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro said. “The new initiative will establish a foundation for their achievement and has the potential to play a key role in eliminating stubborn equity gaps among our talented and diverse students. In addition to truly addressing equity and access, we see iPad Air as a powerful tool to prepare our students for their future careers.”

The campuses, which include Bakersfield, Channel Islands, Fresno, Humboldt State, Los Angeles, Maritime Academy, Northridge and San Marcos, will use a mix of funding to provide the devices. That funding could come from savings, federal Covid relief aid for pandemic-related losses, or new funding from the 2021-22 state budget, a representative from the chancellor’s office said.

There are no income-based eligibility requirements to participate and students must register for the program directly on their campus.

 

Ashley A. Smith

Thursday, July 15, 2021, 3:41pm

Link copied.UC finalizes policy requiring students and staff be vaccinated against Covid-19

The University of California has finalized a policy that will require all students and staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before they can attend any of the university’s campuses in the fall, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The university made the announcement Thursday as Covid-19 infection rates began to climb among the state’s unvaccinated residents. Experts are particularly concerned about the Delta variant, the most common variant in the state. It is believed to be twice as contagious as the more common coronavirus strains.

Physical distancing and masking are also expected to continue on the campuses.

University officials consulted with UC infectious disease experts and reviewed medical studies to draw up the vaccination policy, said UC President Michael Drake. The university announced it would require the vaccines in June.

Only a few other university systems in the country have announced they will mandate Covid-19 vaccines while they are still under emergency use authorization. Previously, UC  university officials said they would only require the vaccines once they had full FDA approval.

Diana Lambert

Thursday, July 15, 2021, 1:20pm

Link copied.Enrollment up at California universities, but where will students live?

Enrollment at California state universities has increased by almost 95,000 students in the last five years, increasing housing problems in campus communities, according to a Public Policy Institute of California report.

College students in California have to compete for affordable housing in an already crowded and expensive housing market. The state is home to four of the eight most expensive rental markets in the country, according to the report. And areas once considered affordable, such as Sacramento, Fresno and Bakersfield, have seen rental costs skyrocket in recent years.

Students who live on campus are more likely to remain in college, although most students at University of California and California State University campuses move off campus after their freshman year, according to the report. At many campuses university housing is more costly than private housing.

Diana Lambert

Thursday, July 15, 2021, 12:54pm

Link copied.Remote learning harmed high school students, new research says

High school students who were in distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic suffered socially, emotionally and academically, according to research published this week by the Educational Research Association.

“Many news stories have reported on individual stories of teenagers who have suffered from anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges during the pandemic,” said Angela L. Duckworth, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and lead author of the study. “This study gives some of the first empirical evidence of how learning remotely has affected adolescent well-being.”

The study compared students who took classes remotely and their counterparts who studied in person. Students who studied at home scored lower on the “thriving index” than students who went to school in person.

The differences were not great, but even small effects are noteworthy when they impact millions of people, according to a press release on the report.

Diana Lambert

Wednesday, July 14, 2021, 4:47pm

Link copied.Native American leaders press for monument to replace Junipero Serra statue

Native American leaders in California rallied Wednesday outside the State House to urge passage of a bill that would replace a recently toppled statue of 18th century Spanish colonizer Junipero Serra with a monument in Capitol Park that honors Native American tribes living in the Sacramento area.

Source: Livestream of James Ramos' press conference.

Assemblyman James Ramos calls for passage of Assembly Bill 338.

“The Serra statue is a symbol of a dark period of time when genocide was inflicted on our people and the beginning of the mentality that views people living in California as less than human,” said Assemblyman James Ramos, D-Highland, the first Native American elected to the Legislature and sponsor of the bill. “Most Californians have a romanticized image of the mission period, and don’t realize that for the state’s Native Americans it was a period of forced assimilation and servitude, family separation, starvation and other abuses.”

Jesus Tarango, chairman of Wilton Rancheria, whose tribe is among those sponsoring AB 338, said at the rally, “This bill will begin to tell that history for us and for future generations.”

Assembly Bill 338 has moved through the Legislature with little opposition and needs only the approval of the Senate before it heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom for his signature. It would authorize a monument honoring indigenous California that would be designed in consultation with Native American leaders and funded privately by tribal nations. It would replace the life-size statue of Father Serra, which was erected on the State House grounds in 1967. It was toppled on July 4, 2020; Serra statues in San Francisco and Los Angeles were torn down about the same time.

Serra was a Franciscan missionary who founded nine California missions, including the first, in San Diego, in 1769, to convert Native Americans to Christianity. Pope Francis canonized Serra during a visit to the United States in 2015.

In opposing AB 338, the Pacific Justice Institute – Center of Public Policy, said, “The provision to tear out the law written to erect and maintain a monument in honor of Father Serra is nothing less than the validation and codification of anti-Christian mob violence.”

John Fensterwald

Wednesday, July 14, 2021, 3:50pm

Link copied.Cybercriminals are targeting more school districts, even small ones like Newhall

Small school districts aren’t the fattest of targets for cybercriminals, but they also tend to be easier prey than big districts and businesses with larger IT departments. Those small districts include the Newhall School District in Santa Clarita, whose cyberattack last fall crippled the 6,000-student elementary district for about a week, while sidelining its 310 teachers from leading distance learning.

As profiled by CalMatters, the ransomware assault knocked out the district’s computer network by installing encrypted software through the internet. Newhall was one of more than two dozen school districts and universities in California attacked by cybercriminals in the past five years — though the unreported numbers could be bigger. Victims include Visalia Unified, Rialto School District in San Bernardino, Sierra College and the University of California, according to Seculore Solutions, a software company based in Maryland.

Cyberattacks have sharply increased during the pandemic as schools and businesses moved more operations online. Because they rely on open WiFi networks to share software, school districts are “low-hanging fruit,” software researcher Andrew Brandt told CalMatters writer Zayna Syed.

Newhall’s four-person IT department had taken basic precautions, like installing internal firewalls to ward off computer viruses, that proved inadequate. Because the district had cyber insurance, an advanced network and security company helped to retrieve files. The FBI discourages paying ransom and Newhall Superintendent Jeff Pelzel declined to tell CalMatters if the district paid it. But he did say that the teachers’ lesson plans and other intellectual property were a factor in the decision. It took a week to get back online and months before all operations were back to normal.

The California Department of Education only recently began expanding its work helping districts with cybersecurity issues, CalMatters reported.

John Fensterwald

Wednesday, July 14, 2021, 3:45pm

Link copied.State Board of Education delays math curriculum revision timelines

The California State Board of Education on Wednesday voted to push back its timeline for reviewing and revising the California Mathematics Framework, a voluntary guidance document on how schools and teachers should implement the state’s math standards.

The vote will give the authors of the framework about six more months to incorporate requested changes to the framework. A second 60-day public review period previously scheduled for June-July 2021 will now take place December 2021-February 2022, and an official vote on the framework by the state board will be moved to May 2022 instead of November 2021.

“The math framework development timeline from 2019 is out of date and needs to be adjusted to allow for completion of edits directed by the Instructional Quality Commission,” said Janet Weeks, director of communications for the California State Board of Education.

The move comes almost two months after a decision by the Instructional Quality Commission to make changes to the framework following a 60-day public review period that solicited more than 500 comments from teachers, parents and math education experts.

Teachers, parents and education equity groups such as the Ed Trust-West and Californians Together have expressed support for the framework and its aims to reduce segregation within schools based upon students’ perceived math abilities. But others are wary of its approach and fear that it would hold students back from reaching their full potential in math or getting personalized lessons.

A flashpoint in the debate is a proposal to encourage districts to have students take the same level of math from middle school to their sophomore year, rather than separating them into advanced and slower math pathways starting as early as fifth grade. Parents and teachers said that the move could hold students back from reaching their full potential in math. Others criticized elements of the framework that incorporated elements of social justice into practical applications for math lessons.

Many studies on math education have shown that so-called math tracking in middle school often holds Black, Latino and Native American students back from options to take advanced math and other courses required for college admission.

Sydney Johnson

Wednesday, July 14, 2021, 1:46pm

Link copied.State considering more legislation to diversify the teacher workforce

Legislation that would award grants to eligible schools to help them diversify their teacher workforce passed the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

The California Diversifying the Teacher Workforce Grant Program would provide one-time competitive grants to local school districts, charter schools and county offices of education to develop or expand programs that recruit and retain more black and brown teachers.

In the 2017-18 school year fewer than 21 percent of  California teachers were Latino and 4 percent were African American, while 54 percent of the state’s students were Latino and 5.4 percent were African American, according to the bill.

“We regularly talk about equity,” said Mike Gipson, D-Carson, author of Assembly Bill 520. “This bill will put and place equity front and center as a priority to improve student achievement. We need to create a better space for our students to grow, to learn and succeed.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond called into the committee meeting to express support for the bill, which the California Department of Education is sponsoring.

“Research shows that when you diversify the teacher workforce — yet even having one teacher of color provides all kinds of benefits for students of color and for teachers, for students of all backgrounds,” he said. “In other words, this is a measure that is simply just a win-win.”

Only school districts that have had significant turnover of teachers, receive Title 1 funding, have a disproportionate number of inexperienced teachers and who have a commitment to developing culturally responsive teachers focused on the educational outcomes of high needs, low-performing students are eligible for a grant.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee analysis did not offer the amount of the grants or the total cost for the bill, saying instead that it would likely cost in the tens of millions of dollars.

Some of the allowed uses for the funds include providing professional development for teachers, collaborating with teacher education and coaching programs to support teachers, setting up career pathways to encourage teachers to pursue administrative positions, creating a positive school climate and offering coaching around social emotional learning.

Committee member Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, expressed support for diversifying the teacher workforce, but questioned whether the legislation would replicate a recently funded program in the newly approved budget bill. The budget allocated $350 million to establish the Teacher Residency Grant Program. Among the goals of the program is diversifying the teacher workforce.

Senate Bill 520 passed the committee and will go to the Senate Appropriations Committee next.

Diana Lambert

Tuesday, July 13, 2021, 3:25pm

Link copied.U.S. Department of Education makes temporary changes to ease Pell Grant process

The U.S. Department of Education is making temporary changes to the federal aid verification process that it says will reduce barriers that prevent students from accessing financial aid.

In a press release, the department said that in a typical year, Pell Grant-eligible students are asked to submit documentation to verify their income, such as transcripts of tax returns. Non-Pell Grant students are not asked to verify their income.

“As a result, the verification process disproportionately burdens students from low-income backgrounds and students of color. The process can be extremely challenging for students, particularly because at least 20 percent of Pell-eligible applicants are exempt from tax filing due to their low-income levels,” the statement from the department reads.

This year, those documents will not be necessary for Pell Grant-eligible students and the department will focus only on identity theft and fraud. The changes will apply to students as they fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form for the upcoming 2021-22 cycle.

“This has been an exceptionally tough year,” Richard Cordray, Chief Operating Officer of Federal Student Aid (FSA), said in a statement. “We need to ensure students have the most straightforward path to acquiring the financial aid they need to enroll in college and continue their path to a degree.

– Michael Burke

Michael Burke

Monday, July 12, 2021, 7:24pm

Link copied.Schools must send home students who refuse to wear a mask, state says

In guidance issued Monday, the California Department of Public Health said that schools “must exclude students from campus” who don’t wear a mask indoors and refuse to wear one that the school provides.

The wording amplifies on the masking requirement that the public health department announced on Friday. The requirement does not apply to students who are exempt from wearing a face covering, under state guidelines. These include children under 2, students with medical or mental health conditions or are hearing impaired or communicating with a hearing impaired person. For students who are excluded for not wearing a mask, schools must provide alternative educational opportunities, the state said.

California’s position differs from the guidance issued Friday by the federal Centers for Disease Control, which said only unvaccinated students and staff would be mandated to wear masks. However, the CDC said states do have the discretion to impose additional protections, as conditions warrant.

California’s mask mandate also applies to adults indoors at schools.

The new guidance explains the reasons for its ruling on masks. Masking, it said, is one of the most effective measures to control the spread of Covid-19 by both aerosols and droplets. It’s vital in schools that cannot maintain the recommended 3-foot physical distancing between individuals and serves as a precaution against the spread of more transmissible variants like the Delta variant and a protection when it’s difficult to identify those who are not vaccinated.

In a statement cited by the California School Boards Association, Ben Chida, the chief deputy cabinet secretary for Gov. Gavin Newsom, acknowledged that the mask requirement may embroil school district leaders in disputes.

“We think that easily implemented and effective measures like masking are a far better option than other, harder-to-implement options,” he said. “In terms of the cultural and political disputes that arise, part of what we’re trying to do is absorb as much of the impact as possible at the state level so that it’s not a local fight.”

John Fensterwald

Monday, July 12, 2021, 5:31pm

Link copied.CalPERS reports big annual return on investments

Buoyed by private investment and stock market gains, CalPERS announced Monday a return of 21.3% on investments for the fiscal year that ended June 30. That return is triple the 7% annual targeted rate of return currently built into CalPERS’ financial assumptions and marks a sharp recovery from an initial drop in stock market values from the impact of Covid-19.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System is the nation’s largest public employee pension system, serving more than 2 million employees and retirees, including classified school employees, such as bus drivers, kitchen workers and teacher’s aides. Teachers and school administrators are members of CalSTRS, which will report its yearly financial results toward the end of July.

CalPERS’ investment portfolio rose $80 billion by the end of June to a record value of $469 billion.

CalPERS has struggled since the Great Recession to be in a position to pay its long-term financial obligations to retirees, notwithstanding sharp rate increases imposed on public employers since 2013 legislation. The latest return on investments raises the percentage of assets needed to fully fund obligations from 71% last year to 82%, CalPERS reported.

Theresa Taylor, chair of the CalPERS Investment Committee, cautioned not to expect similar rates of return every year. “But as pleased as we are with these great returns, let me emphasize that we don’t count on this kind of investing environment every year. We know markets go up and down.”

John Fensterwald

Monday, July 12, 2021, 4:37pm

Link copied.West Contra Costa Unified teachers ratify 21-22 contract

West Contra Costa Unified’s teachers union, the United Teachers of Richmond, voted to ratify a tentative contract agreement with the district calling for smaller class sizes and more counselors.

About 95%, of the teachers who voted were in favor of the contract, union officials announced Monday. West Contra Costa Unified’s school board must vote to approve the contract and could do so as early as Wednesday’s school board meeting.

The agreement calls for an average class size for grades TK-3 of 22 students, with a maximum of 23 students. It also mandates an average of 30 students (with a 31 student maximum) for grades 4-8 in elementary schools and also in K-8 schools. Math, English, English language development, social sciences and science classes at middle and high schools will have a maximum of 36 students, with a maximum of 52 students for physical education and 37 for other classes.

The new class-size requirements will result in more than 120 more teachers in classrooms next school year, district officials said Monday.

The contract would allow teachers to volunteer to accept students over their maximum in exchange for a salary increase of 3.5%.

The contract also calls for the hiring of 12 new academic counselors, resulting in a 338:1 student-to-counselor ratio for K-8 and middle schools and a 350:1 student-to-counselor ratio for high schools — down from 700:1. Each comprehensive high school will also have at least one college and career counselor.

Ali Tadayon

Monday, July 12, 2021, 4:21pm

Link copied.California lawmakers strike agreement on broadband budget bill

Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers on Monday announced their plans for how to spend the $6 billion that California is allocating towards broadband in the 2021-22 budget.

Included in the broadband blueprint are plans to expand the state’s internet infrastructure with a particular focus on areas that have historically been unserved or underserved by private internet service providers. Specifically, the bill directs $3.25 billion to build middle-mile broadband lines, which connect the greater highway of broadband service to the last mile, which are end-users.

The bill also sets aside $2 billion for “last-mile” lines in rural and urban areas to connect consumers’ homes and businesses with local networks.

Other directives in the bill include:

  • More vital accountability and legislative oversight;
  • Creating a “broadband czar” and nine-member council within the California Department of Technology;
  • Hiring a third party to build and maintain the “middle-mile network” — high-capacity fiber lines that carry large amounts of data at higher speeds over longer distances between local networks.

“This broadband package is historic,” Newsom said on Monday in a prepared statement. “It transcends politics, and it will be a legacy project that will benefit generations of rural and urban residents alike. This legislation will yield vital, broadened access for California families by prioritizing the unserved and underserved areas, facilities, households, and businesses that remain disconnected in the digital era.”

The plans are detailed in AB 156, known as the broadband trailer bill, and it elaborates on directives and policies laid out in the 2021-22 state budget. AB 156 must be approved by the full Legislature and then signed by the governor.

Sydney Johnson

Friday, July 9, 2021, 2:40pm

Link copied.Newsom praises what budget will do for students in signing K-12 ‘trailer bill’

Gov. Gavin Newsom extolled the benefits to California students of record level-spending on education in the 2021-21 state budget during a bill signing with students at Shearer Elementary in Napa Valley Unified on Friday.

“This is a transformation budget,” he said. “Mark my words: this is unlike anything we have ever done in this state. So many things we’ve promoted. So many things we dreamed of. We’re delivering when we sign this bill here today.”

Credit: NBC4 Los Angeles livestream

Newsom talks about the K-12 budget during a press conference at Shearer Elementary School in Napa Unified on July 9, 2021.

Technically, Newsom didn’t sign the budget legislation, which he’ll do next week, but Assembly Bill 130. That’s the 100-page K-12 “trailer bill,” which provides technical language and details for implementing the new K-12 programs in the budget. It includes transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds, which will be phased in over the next five years. The bill surfaced Sunday after weeks of negotiations, and the Legislature passed it on Thursday.

Newsom highlighted the new programs that will benefit schools like Shearer Elementary, where 3 out of 5 students are English learners and nearly all students qualify for free and reduced-price school meals. The budget includes $3 billion to transition to community schools, which will provide health benefits, afternoon enrichment programs and family supports, as well as money for high-dose tutoring for students who lost ground during the pandemic. Low-income schools will also be able to lower class sizes or hire more counselors and nurses, with an extra $1 billion earmarked for them, he said. There also will be money to recruit and train teachers for low-income schools experiencing teacher shortages.

“We have a remarkable opportunity to follow through on our promises and to produce real and sustainable results,” he said.

Accompanying him was Linda Darling-Hammond, the president of the State Board of Education and a close adviser on education.

“It’s a historic bill in multiple ways,” she said. “It is not only the amount of money going into education in California, but the way in which it’s going to be spent to support equity and the way in which it’s going to transform the way we think about our school system and what students experience.”

John Fensterwald

Friday, July 9, 2021, 1:08pm

Link copied.Mills College alumnae file lawsuit against school

A group of Mills College alumnae have filed a lawsuit against the Oakland school claiming the college withheld information from alumni trustees about the possibility the college would close or merge with Northeastern University, according to SFGate.

The group, which filed the complaint on June 7 in Alameda County, is asking the court to give it two months to review the college’s books.

Mills College in Oakland, which has had financial problems, announced a merger with Northeastern University in Boston in May that would keep the campus open.

The new plan would allow the historic college campus to remain open but would cease its tradition of serving only women in its undergraduate programs. The college would become known as Mills College at Northeastern University, and current Mills students could stay or possibly transfer to Northeastern’s main campus in Boston.

Diana Lambert

Friday, July 9, 2021, 1:04pm

Link copied.USC downsizes from 14,000-square-foot presidential mansion

The University of Southern California recently sold its presidential mansion in San Marino for $25 million and moved university President Carol Folt to a smaller $8.6 million home in Santa Monica, according to the Los Angeles Times.

University officials made the decision to sell the 14,000-square-foot mansion to cut costs. The mansion on the estate was built in 1934 on 7 acres of land donated by U.S. Army Gen. George Patton and railroad mogul Henry Huntington.

The Seeley Mudd Estate has been home to USC presidents for more than four decades, serving as the site of school dinners, galas and holiday parties.

Diana Lambert