California education news: What’s the latest?

Wednesday, April 21, 2021, 3:14pm

Link copied.Los Angeles Unified superintendent to step down in June

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner will be stepping down from his position once his contract ends on June 30, he said in a letter sent to the school board on Wednesday.

Beutner, who has led the nation’s second-largest school district for three years, did not clarify why he has decided to step down. In his letter to the board, he described the achievements made under his tenure, including a rise in graduation rates during the 2020 school year, a reduction in chronic absences, and the district’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the letter, Beutner noted that a new superintendent could be found within the district.

“I believe the next superintendent of Los Angeles Unified can be found amongst the current team, and she or he will be well placed to continue the progress at this critical time,” he wrote.

Betty Márquez Rosales

Wednesday, April 21, 2021, 9:20am

Link copied.California child care providers push to delay inspections

Child care providers are balking at a California plan to resume in-person inspections, after a year of pandemic restrictions have kept parents and others away from child care centers to curb disease transmission.

The state recently notified providers that inspections would begin again in the spring. More than 2,200 California child care providers have signed a petition asking the Department of Social Services to hold off on in-person inspections. They would prefer virtual inspections, citing safety concerns, as Cal Matters reported

The pushback comes at a time when the long-beleaguered child care sector has been hammered by the pandemic. About 40,000 child care workers across the state are now represented by the Child Care Providers United union, which is currently negotiating with the state over the release of covid relief stipends.  

Karen D'Souza

Tuesday, April 20, 2021, 10:58am

Link copied.USDA to reimburse for free school meals through June 2022

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will continue reimbursing schools and childcare centers for free meals to all students regardless of their income through the 2021-22 school year, USDA officials announced Tuesday.

Meal service waivers such as the “Seamless Summer Option” that made it possible for California districts to distribute millions of grab-and-go meals to students since campuses closed due to Covid-19 will be extended through June 2022, according to a USDA news release. The effort is part of the Biden-Harris administration’s “commitment to reopen safely,” the news release said.

“States and districts wanted waivers extended to plan for safe reopening in the fall; USDA answered the call to help America’s schools and childcare institutions serve high quality meals while being responsive to their local needs as children safely return to their regular routines,” USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release. “This action also increases the reimbursement rate to school meal operators so they can serve healthy foods to our kids. It’s a win-win for kids, parents and schools.”

In addition to the flexibility of not having to check students’ income eligibility for free meals, districts are also able to set up flexible meal times based on their schedules and their students’ needs and can serve meals to students outside of normal school hours.

The news comes amid efforts on the state and federal level to permanently provide free meals to all students. Advocates say systemic barriers often prevent hungry children from accessing the free meals they are entitled to.

Ali Tadayon

Monday, April 19, 2021, 3:07pm

Link copied.Early attendance bears out disparities in attendance in LA Unified schools

Attendance the first week back at Los Angeles Unified’s elementary schools confirmed what parent surveys projected: big disparities in students returning to school based on the wealth of the communities they live in. And in some cases, even fewer children than anticipated ventured back, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In South Gate, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by Covid-19, with a death rate of 292 people per 100,000, 38% of elementary school students, 31% of middle school and 19% of high school students were expected back on campus, based on a survey of parents returned by 77% of caregivers districtwide. But one day last week, only five 10-year-olds were in class at Madison Elementary School. South Gate joined Latino-majority East Los Angeles, Pico Union and Bell, where only  about a quarter of all students are expected back.

Meanwhile, families lined up around the block at Warner Avenue Elementary in Westwood, where 95 percent of parents said they’d return to school. The death rate in the neighborhood — 41 per 100,000 — is a tenth of the death rate in Watts, and Westside also has one of the highest vaccination rates in the city.

Several factors may have suppressed early attendance in low-income areas. The district requires that students must be tested during the week before returning to school and take weekly tests after that. But some parents could not get to one of 43 sites where testing was offered. And scheduled in-person classes of 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and after-school care until only 4 p.m. may not jibe with working parents’ hours, the Times reported.

Children’s advocates have called for more outreach in low-income communities to explain testing and reassure parents that returning to schools will be safe.

A report last month by the nonprofit Great Public Schools Now found that tens of thousands of middle and high school students have been disengaged from school during distance learning, and Black and Latino elementary students have fallen farther behind in their reading skills than Asian and white students.

All 1,400 schools in the district, the largest in California, will be open in some fashion by the end of April.

John Fensterwald

Monday, April 19, 2021, 12:51pm

Link copied.Sacramento State plans to take graduation ceremony on the road

Sacramento State graduates can climb into the family SUV, a friend’s sports car or a rented limo and circle the campus at designated times on May 21 or 22 as part of the university’s CARmencement ceremony.

The mobile graduation ceremony will take the place of the traditional event at Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento. The indoor event was canceled because of health concerns related to Covid-19.

Over 4,600 vehicles carrying graduates from the class of 2020 and 2021, and their friends and families are expected to travel the CARmencement route, which will include groups of cheering staff and faculty, speeches and live music.

“I promised that we would meet at Golden 1 Center, and we cannot,” said University President Robert S. Nelsen on the school’s website. “All of us want to be together, and we have hoped the pandemic would be gone by now, but it isn’t, so we have to pivot.”

Campus officials are encouraging graduates to wear their caps and gowns, and to decorate their vehicles.

There will be a limited number of guests because only one vehicle is allowed per student and family members will not be allowed to line the parade route, according to the university. The graduation event will be live streamed.

“It’s important that we celebrate with our students and their families, and I promise this will be fun,” Nelsen said.

Not all the university’s students are happy with the plan and 886 have signed an online petition asking the university for a graduation that would allow students to walk across a stage.

 

Diana Lambert

Monday, April 19, 2021, 12:50pm

Link copied.Oakland Unified and teachers union reach tentative agreement on reopening

Three days after Oakland Unified’s teachers union, the Oakland Education Association, declared an impasse in its negotiations with the district over reopening schools, the parties announced a tentative agreement Sunday.

Neither the Oakland Education Association nor Oakland Unified had released the details of the tentative agreement by Monday afternoon. To finalize the agreement, teachers must vote to ratify it and the district’s school board must approve it.

Oakland schools reopened to its youngest students on March 30, and 3rd- through 5th-grade students returned Monday.

Representatives from the district and the teachers union said the tentative agreement calls for a full in-person return in the fall, and an August 9 start day for the 2021-2022 school year.

Ali Tadayon

Monday, April 19, 2021, 11:56am

Link copied.San Francisco superintendent offers to extend his stay if school board behaves

Usually, when a school board extends a superintendent’s contract by one year, it’s an indication of probation or a short leash. In San Francisco Unified, Superintendent Vincent Matthews has flipped the script on the school board.

On Tuesday, the embattled seven-member board will consider the one-year contract extension that Matthews is proposing, at the board’s request, to rescind the retirement he announced in March. The terms are best summed up by the San Francisco Chronicle headline: He’ll remain on the job “if board behaves.”

Specifically, reporter Jill Tucker writes, the revised contract would require the board to focus only on reopening schools and refrain from creating new programs and mandates until reopening issues are settled.

The extension would also force board members to follow existing rules that include one to “govern in a dignified and professional manner, treating everyone with civility and respect” and to show up prepared to board meetings. The latter Tucker said, refers to board members’ questions on tangential issues that have extended meetings until midnight.

Unusual and probably embarrassing as the demands are, the board may be facing an offer it can’t refuse. Given the turmoil of the past few months, hiring a good candidate to replace Matthews, even temporarily, would not be easy.

Among the recent controversies, City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued the district over its slow reopening and sought a court order to force a full reopening this month; a Superior Court judge declined to issue it. Board member Alison Collins is suing five of her colleagues for $87 million after they stripped her of the vice presidency for tweets she made about Asian Americans in 2016. And the board faces another lawsuit over its plan, delayed for now, to expunge the names of  44 schools honoring individuals seen as having racist views or ties to slavery, including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Three board members, including Collins, face a potential recall election.

Matthews is also demanding authority over hiring and firing of his staff, with board votes on senior staff contracts conducted in public rather than behind closed doors. Matthews has complained about the board’s second guessing and rejecting his nominations.

John Fensterwald

Monday, April 19, 2021, 11:51am

Link copied.Los Angeles Unified considers sale or lease of district headquarters

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner will assess a sale or lease of some district-owned real estate as way to potentially “realize substantial sums of money, which could be better used to provide direct services to students in schools,” Beutner said in a Monday morning update.

The school board authorized the superintendent to evaluate the school district’s headquarters, which is about 900,000 square feet, in addition to 18 acres of land that is currently being used to house some of the district’s school buses. Both are located in downtown Los Angeles.

“Through a combination of remote work and relocation to an office closer to where they live and work, these employees may benefit from shorter commutes, as well as quicker access and closer connection to schools they support,”Beutner said.

After a brief mention of the district’s school-based Covid-19 vaccination sites, Beutner also said that the same “local, school-based approach will be needed in the months ahead when vaccines are proven safe and effective for children.” Vaccinations are needed to reach herd immunity, he said. Schools, he added, will play a critical role if booster shots or seasonal vaccinations are needed.

A system needs to be put in place to provide these safely, reliably and as efficiently as possible,” Beutner said.

Betty Márquez Rosales

Friday, April 16, 2021, 2:24pm

Link copied.Oakland teachers union declares impasse, calls for state mediation over reopening agreement

The Oakland Education Association, the teachers union for Oakland Unified, declared an impasse today in its negotiations with the district over reopening schools.

An impasse is a formal declaration that one party of a negotiation doesn’t think further discussions would be productive and that state mediation is needed.

The union alleges that the district made “unilateral changes” to special education workloads, preparation time for teachers, accommodations for child care, leave time for teachers with family members who are at risk of Covid-19 and changes to remote instruction.

“These last remaining issues must be addressed through the bargaining process,” said Keith Brown, president of the teachers union. “The OUSD’s decision to ignore them has brought us to this impasse. Now is the time to address them.”

The union membership will participate in a “Vote of No Confidence in OUSD’s Reopening Plan.” The results of the vote will be made public April 19.

Oakland Schools reopened to its youngest students on March 30, with 3rd- through 5th-grade students returning April 19.

Diana Lambert

Friday, April 16, 2021, 12:57pm

Link copied.Report shows California’s 296 suburban districts are diverse and varied

A report this week on the state’s 296 suburban school districts refutes the notion that they’re homogenous and largely white enclaves. Data show that overall they reflect the state’s diversity, but defy generalizations because individually they vary greatly in demographics, wealth and academic achievement.

The report, “Beyond the White Picket Fence: A Picture of Suburban Schools in California,” was written by Sherry Reed of the California Education Lab at UC Davis. Suburban districts are generally located within a large metropolitan area but outside of a principal city.

Among the findings:

  • There are  2.6 million students in 4,266  suburban schools, compared with 2.8 million students in 4,450  urban school;
  • Students in suburban districts are racially and ethnically diverse: 52% of students are Latinos, compared with 55% statewide; 24% White (22% statewide), 10% Asian American (9% statewide) and 5% are Black (5% statewide);
  • Suburban districts as a whole are wealthier: 55% of students qualify for free or reduced price school meals, compared with 62% of urban students and 59% of rural students.
  • The large majority of Black, Latinos, and Asian American people now live in suburbs. Latinos represent the largest group in 25 suburban areas and Black families in nine highly diverse suburbs.

Overall numbers, however, mask differences:

  • In one-quarter of suburban districts, nearly 75% of all students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals;
  • In 15% of suburban districts the rates of student homelessness are more than double the statewide rate of 3.2%;
  • In about 10% of suburban districts, more than one-third of students are English learners compared with 19% statewide;
  • Third-graders meeting or exceeding standards on the Smarter Balanced tests range from 8% in English language arts and 12% in math in a small Central Valley district to 93% for English language arts and 96% in math in a Santa Barbara County district;
  • Slightly fewer suburban high school graduates (45%) complete the A-G coursework required for admission to a UC or CSU campus than urban graduates (47%) but far more than high school graduates in  rural areas (19%) and towns (31%).

Reed concludes that false perceptions of homogeneity and wealth in suburban districts may divert attention and resources from suburban districts. “Our outdated perceptions of suburban America may result in unintentional neglect of the over 2.6 million students living in suburban areas,” the report concludes.

John Fensterwald

Friday, April 16, 2021, 11:01am

Link copied.Covid-19 rates stay low in Clovis Unified, where students have been back for months

Clovis Unified in Fresno County was among the largest and earliest school districts in California to welcome students back to campus this year. And so far, the district has managed to keep the number of cases of Covid-19 low even as large portions of students have opted to return for in-person instruction, the Fresno Bee reports.

“We haven’t had any real crises moments where we have to shut down a whole classroom, for example, or shut down a whole school,” Dr. Rais Vohra, interim health officer for the Fresno County Department of Public Health, said Thursday. “Clovis Unified is doing a fantastic job with bringing kids back on campus safely.”

About 21,010 students are participating in the district’s hybrid program, which combines in-person and online instruction, and about 21,645 are continuing with fully online learning, according to the Fresno Bee.

But there have been some cases of Covid-19, in some circumstances causing activities like sports to be put temporarily on hold. There were 51 cases overall in March, according to the district’s Covid-19 tracker. In April so far, there have been 10 cases where a staff member or student tested positive and had been on a campus or in a district building.

Sydney Johnson

Friday, April 16, 2021, 10:57am

Link copied.Biden administration releases child care relief funds from American Rescue Plan

The Biden administration Thursday announced it is releasing the $39 billion earmarked for the child care sector from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The $39 billion is separated into two buckets, $24 billion to help child care providers stay in business amid an industry in crisis and $15 billion for states to make child care more affordable, increase access to subsidized care and raise wages for child care workers.

Vice President Kamala Harris called the funding the “single largest investment in child care in the nation’s history,” as Axios reported, adding, “For many, many people and many women in particular, child care has often been the prerequisite for their ability to work, and for many others, child care is their work, and that’s why in America, child care should be readily available and affordable for all of those who need it.”

California, which has almost 3 million children under 5, stands to receive about $3.8 billion in child care relief.  The administration is expected to release guidance to states on these funds in the coming weeks, as the Hill cited.  

Karen D'Souza

Thursday, April 15, 2021, 2:59pm

Link copied.LA Unified will not take Smarter Balanced test in elementary, middle school this spring

Elementary and middle school students in Los Angeles Unified will not take the state’s Smarter Balanced standardized tests in English language arts and math this spring, district officials said on Thursday. Students in grade 11 will continue with the annual statewide assessments.

Students in grades 3-8 will instead take assessments that the district has already given multiple times this school year to measure student learning and growth, said Alison Yoshimoto-Towery, chief academic officer for L.A. Unified. That includes STAR for math and English language arts in middle school, and elementary students will be taking assessments provided by Edulastic.

“Our primary focus is just around preserving instructional time, and we already had planned to give those other assessments,” Yoshimoto-Towery said.

The district decided to keep using the Smarter Balanced assessments at the high school level, however, because colleges sometimes use the data from the statewide standardized tests in admissions, according to Yoshimoto-Towery. Also, students in that grade level have taken the assessment before and are more likely to be familiar with it.

The Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts are among several tests school districts are typically required to administer to different student groups as prescribed by state and federal law.

In March 2020, state and federal education officials allowed states to suspend annual standardized testing due to the pandemic. But this year, education officials appointed by President Joe Biden said that school districts must resume testing, despite having a wide variation among school districts returning to in-person instruction and an ongoing pandemic. California has since signaled to school districts that they are expected to administer Smarter Balanced except in situations where the assessment would not be a “viable” option.

However, criteria on what viability means remains sparse. State education leaders said they plan to release updated guidance in the coming days, and some school districts have moved forward in the meantime.

More than 70 campuses in L.A. Unified, the largest district in California, reopened for in-person instruction this week, creating a confusing landscape for how to measure student growth and learning in a standardized way. Schools can select when they start to administer their assessments, and although reopening is expected to accelerate, there will certainly be a mix of student testing at home and in person.

Sydney Johnson

Thursday, April 15, 2021, 1:06pm

Link copied.Cases of MIS-C, a Covid-19 complication, on the rise in California

Cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, a condition connected to Covid-19, are on the rise in California children, especially those in the Central Valley, warned the Fresno County Department of Public Health and Valley Children Healthcare Thursday.

MIS-C can cause inflammation in the heart, lung, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes and gastrointestinal organs. Common symptoms include fever, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, neck pain, rash, bloodshot eyes and fatigue. More serious symptoms include trouble breathing, pain and pressure in the chest, confusion, inability to stay awake, pale, grey or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds and severe stomach ache.

The condition can be serious, even deadly, but most children recover, according to a press release issued by the Fresno County Department of Public Health and Valley Children Healthcare.

A recent surge in Covid-19 cases in the Central Valley could mean more MIS-C cases in the coming weeks, as the condition presents itself several weeks after Covid-19 infection.

Diana Lambert

Thursday, April 15, 2021, 12:02pm

Link copied.Chico State to require Covid-19 vaccination for dorm residents, athletes

Chico State student athletes and dorm residents will be required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the start of the fall semester, the university announced today.

“Our plan is to open our residence halls at about 80 percent of full capacity, with two students in most rooms, in the fall,” said Mike Guzzi, CSU, Chico’s emergency operations center director.  “When athletics returns, our student-athletes will spend significant time together in shared facilities. It’s critical that these two segments of the student population are vaccinated so we can safely plan for a full, lively Chico State in the fall 2021.”

The university expects 1,800 students to reside in its dorms next school year, with move in dates Aug. 16-20. University Housing is requiring that students be fully vaccinated by July 30 in order to move into the dorms on their assigned move-in date.

Student athletes who participate in NCAA intercollegiate sports will have to show proof of vaccination to get medical clearance to play on one of the university’s 13 teams.

Students can contact the university for information about applying for medical or religious exemptions.

Diana Lambert

Thursday, April 15, 2021, 11:54am

Link copied.All California counties out of purple tier for the first time

All 58 counties were out of California’s most restrictive purple tier on the state’s reopening tier system Thursday — the first time since the color-coded system was implemented in August.

Twenty-two counties were in the red or “substantial” tier Thursday, and 33 were in the orange or “moderate” tier. Only three counties — Lassen, Sierra and Alpine — had made it to the yellow or “minimal” tier as of Thursday.

The color-coded system guided when and which businesses can open, as well as when school campuses could reopen. When the system was first established, schools could only open for in-person instruction after staying out of the most restrictive purple tier for two weeks. The rules were later tweaked to allow schools to begin offering in-person instruction in the purple tier as long as the average daily rate of new infections in a county is less than 25 per 100,000 residents.

With all counties out of the purple tier, all California schools may offer in-person instruction if prepared. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced earlier this month that the state is moving towards retiring the tier system around June 15.

Ali Tadayon

Wednesday, April 14, 2021, 9:56pm

Link copied.West Contra Costa Unified names new superintendent

West Contra Costa Unified announced Wednesday evening that Kenneth Hurst, superintendent of Othello School School District in Washington state, will be the 30,000-student East Bay district’s next superintendent and first permanent African-American superintendent.

Hurst will replace current superintendent Matthew Duffy on May 17. Hurst’s contract, which calls for a base annual salary of $270,000 was approved unanimously by the district’s school board Wednesday night.

Duffy announced in November that he would not be seeking a contract extension after the 2020-2021 school year. Duffy has faced harsh criticism from some members of the public since 2019, when the district’s predicted deficit ballooned from $10 million to $48 million.

Hurst has served as the superintendent of the 4,500-student Othello School District in central Washington since 2016. Prior to that, he served as Associate Superintendent of Educational Services in Oceanside Unified School District in north San Diego County.

Ali Tadayon

Wednesday, April 14, 2021, 1:42pm

Link copied.Bus drivers, aides, other employees in Sacramento City Unified could strike

Bus drivers, lunch workers, aides, security guards and janitors overwhelmingly voted to reject Sacramento City Unified’s plans for in-person school.

Their union, SEIU 1021, which represents about 1,900 workers, has asked the district to provide N95 masks, “consistent social distancing standards,” and protective barriers, in addition to child care stipends for employees who cannot bring their children to work, according to the Sacramento Bee.

The district has declared an impasse in negotiations and is currently in mediation with the union. The vote to reject the district’s proposal means the union could vote to strike, but it is unclear whether that will happen.

Some students in kindergarten through 3rd grade in the district returned to in-person classes two days a week on April 8.

Zaidee Stavely

Wednesday, April 14, 2021, 1:23pm

Link copied.Five people test positive for Covid-19 in Sacramento City Unified

Less than a week after in-person classes began in Sacramento City Unified, some students and teachers are returning to distance learning to quarantine after five people tested positive for Covid-19.

The Sacramento Bee reported that 8,000 students in kindergarten through 3rd grade in the district began in-person classes two days a week on April 8. Since then, five people have tested positive at five different elementary schools in the district. All students in the same cohort as the infected person, and their teachers, will quarantine for 14 days. The district provides Covid-19 testing to students and staff.

Zaidee Stavely

Tuesday, April 13, 2021, 3:47pm

Link copied.Assembly bill would create grant program to diversify teacher workforce

Assembly Bill 520, which would create the California Diversifying the Teacher Workforce Grant Program, passed the Assembly Education Committee Monday. The bill would award $15 million to school districts to develop and implement programs to diversify teaching staffs.

The bill must pass both houses of the state Legislature and be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom before it becomes law.

The legislation is needed to correct a demographic mismatch between teachers and students, said Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Watts, at a press conference hosted by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond Tuesday. According to the bill’s analysis, 77 percent of the state’s students are Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander or mixed race, compared to 40 percent of its teachers.

Research shows that students of color do better academically when they have a teacher who looks like them, said Gipson, who authored the bill.

“When students can identify with their teachers and see them as role models they are ultimately more successful in school,” he said. “They show great confidence and it propels them to pursue and achieve their dreams and aspirations.”

The bill would give school districts resources to recruit, support and mentor teachers of color. The funds could also be used to create career pathways so that teachers can pursue administrative positions, as well as to help districts implement practices that improve school climates.

If passed, the bill would sunset on Jan. 1, 2027.

Diana Lambert

Tuesday, April 13, 2021, 3:43pm

Link copied.Assembly leaders advocate for school construction bond, expanding transitional kindergarten

Expect a new effort to put a school construction bond before state voters and a big push to expand transitional kindergarten in the next state budget, two Assembly leaders on K-12 education issues said Tuesday during the Virtual Legislative Action Day of the Association of California School Administrators.

Here are two highlights of separate interviews with Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, and Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, who chairs the education subcommittee of the Assembly Budget Committee.

Transitional Kindergarten: With billions in one-time state funding for K-12 projected for 2021-22 beyond Gov. Gavin Newsom’s January estimates, McCarty said he and other legislators will press for expanding TK gradually to include all 4-year-olds. The state-funded program is currently limited to children who turn 5 in September, October and November.

It hasn’t been determined how many years it will take to fully phase it in, he said, but he favors starting with “pilot districts” — reimbursing  districts that already offer TK for children who turn 5 later in the school year, using their own general funds to supplement state money. He would then favor shifting state pre-kindergarten funding that has been going to 4-year-olds to 3-year olds, he said.

McCarty cited the learning and pragmatic financial benefits of expanding TK. It is “crystal-clear,” he said, that “the kids who go to pre-kindergarten are doing better when they go to kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade.” And for districts facing declining enrollment, he said, get them state funding a year earlier.

Facilities bond: O’Donnell led the effort in the Legislature to put the ill-fated Proposition 13 bond on the March 2020 ballot. The $15 billion bond, which would have funded renovations and new construction for pre-K to 12 schools, community colleges and state universities, was defeated 46% to 54%.

O’Donnell said he will push for lawmakers to try again in 2022, though for a smaller construction bond. He said it should fare better because it won’t be named Prop. 13. He agreed with other observers that many voters confused it with a separate initiative that would have amended the better known Prop. 13 property tax limitation that voters passed in 1978. Confused voters tend to vote no, he said.

John Fensterwald

Tuesday, April 13, 2021, 1:45pm

Link copied.Students in San Diego districts return to in-person schooling

Thousands of students across several school districts in San Diego are heading back to in-person schooling this week after more than a year of distance learning. That includes students in the Chula Vista Elementary, San Ysidro Elementary, Sweetwater Union High, Lemon Grove Elementary and San Diego Unified districts, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

In San Diego Unified, the second-largest school district in California, about half of the district’s 97,000 students are expected to return, district officials told the Union-Tribune.

Each district is opening in a hybrid learning mode, meaning students return to school part-time and remain in distance learning for the rest of the week. The specific details vary from district to district and sometimes even vary within districts. For example, at San Diego Unified, most schools are reopening for four days of in-person teaching weekly, but some have only opened for two days a week, according to the Union-Tribune.

“We cannot be more proud and happy to be where we are today and to know recovery begins now,” Cindy Marten, superintendent of that district, told the newspaper.

Michael Burke

Tuesday, April 13, 2021, 1:42pm

Link copied.Fewer Asian students attending in-person learning at Sacramento City Unified

Just one in three Asian families are sending their children back for in-person schooling at Sacramento City Unified as the district begins to reopen, the lowest rate of any ethnic group, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Out of nearly 33,000 students whose families responded to a district survey, about half of the students would return to in-person schooling, the Bee reported. While only a third of Asian students would return, according to the families, 71% of white students, 55% of Black students and 52% of Latino students would return.

The lower rates of Asian students returning reflects a nationwide trend and comes amid a sharp rise in attacks and discrimination against Asian Americans across the country, the Bee noted.

Michael Burke

Monday, April 12, 2021, 4:51pm

Link copied.Pfizer asks FDA to authorize vaccines for children ages 12-15

Pfizer and BioNTech requested that the Food and Drug Administration expand vaccine authorization for children ages 12 to 15, the companies shared in a joint statement on Friday.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has already been approved for emergency authorization for people ages 16 and older. Clinical trials have so far found the vaccine to be highly effective in the younger age group, the New York Times reports.

Data from a recent trial found the Pfizer vaccine demonstrated 100% efficacy and “robust antibody response after vaccination with the COVID-19 vaccine” in 12- to 15-year-olds with or without prior evidence of Covid infection, according to the statement. The study also found that children in the younger age group tolerated the vaccine similar to those ages 16 and older and side effects were consistent as well.

If approved, the vaccine could help speed up returning to campus for younger teenagers. In California, efforts to reopen schools have largely focused on elementary-age students. However, some districts have already begun offering full-time, in-person instruction to all students.

“These submissions represent a critical step in Pfizer’s and BioNTech’s ongoing efforts to support governments in broadening global vaccination efforts,” the statement said.

Sydney Johnson

Monday, April 12, 2021, 3:35pm

Link copied.L.A. Unified officials propose adding two weeks to next school year

The Los Angeles Unified school board will soon consider a proposal that would extend the next school year by two weeks to address the anxiety caused by the pandemic, as well as the effects on student learning, according to Superintendent Austin Beutner.

The proposed additional time would add one week in August and one week in January. The two weeks would also provide more time “for teachers and school staff to plan and participate in additional training,” according to Beutner. The announcement was made one day before L.A. Unified schools are set to begin reopening for some in-person instruction for the first time in more than a year.

School districts across the state have considered extensions for months now, an idea that some L.A. Unified school board members have expressed support for in the past.

“We want to look at every possible approach,” Los Angeles Unified Board Member Nick Melvoin said in a recent interview with EdSource. “The things that we have to figure out are resources: Do we have the money for the extended school year with agreement from the unions.”

Betty Márquez Rosales

Monday, April 12, 2021, 12:25pm

Link copied.Biden proposes to increase Pell Grants, extend them to students with DACA status

President Joe Biden is proposing to increase Pell Grants by $400 a year and extend them to undocumented students who have temporary protection from deportation under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Pell grants are a form of federal financial aid available to undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. Grants vary based on need and the cost of attending a particular college or university. The total amount available for 2021-22 is $6,495.

The administration said the changes would “help shrink racial gaps in higher education — which have worsened amidst the Covid-19 pandemic” and indicated that Biden would eventually like to double the amount of the Pell Grant.

Juliana Macedo do Nascimento, senior advocacy manager of United We Dream, an organization led by young immigrants, celebrated the proposal to make Pell Grants available to DACA recipients, but said hundreds of thousands of undocumented students who do not qualify for DACA will still be left out.

“As President Biden continues to find ways to improve the lives of undocumented youth, he must include a pathway to citizenship for millions of people in his infrastructure package. Our communities need relief, and they need relief now!” Macedo do Nascimento said.

Zaidee Stavely

Friday, April 9, 2021, 12:50pm

Link copied.Thousands more students apply for financial aid thanks to deadline extension

Nearly 44,000 students applied for federal and state financial aid for the first time because of a 30-day deadline extension, according to the California Student Aid Commission, including more than 18,600 first-time freshmen.

The commission received 165 requests from high school districts and college offices for a 30-day extension due to Covid-19. The extra time gave students between March 3 and April 1 to meet the priority deadline to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or California Dream Act application, which is required to qualify for state or federal financial aid. The Dream Act application for state aid typically applies to undocumented students who do not qualify for federal aid.

Prior to the March 2 deadline, in February, financial aid applications from high school seniors were down about 11%.

Ashley A. Smith

Friday, April 9, 2021, 10:34am

Link copied.Biden proposes doubling funding for high-poverty schools

The Biden administration on Friday proposed nearly doubling federal funding for high-poverty schools. The proposal could be the largest increase to Title I funding in the program’s history, taking funding for low-income schools from $16.5 billion currently to $36.5 billion.

The increase could provide an injection of financial support to districts struggling to adequately support students as they transition back to in-person instruction, as well as boosting ongoing learning goals and student services.

Biden’s latest education proposal is still in the early phases of the budget process, and it’s unclear if it will make it through Congress, Chalkbeat reports, as some Republicans have been skeptical over increased education funding.

The latest budget proposal also includes a 20% increase in federal special education funding, totaling about $15.5 billion, as well as $1 billion to hire more mental health professionals in schools, and a $100 million grant program aimed at supporting desegregation in communities across the country.

Sydney Johnson

Friday, April 9, 2021, 10:31am

Link copied.Natomas teachers union drops labor charge against district

The Natomas Teachers’ Association will withdraw an unfair labor charge filed against Natomas Unified in early April, the Sacramento Bee reports. The lawsuit was filed after the school district announced it planned to bring elementary school students back to campus five days a week, which teachers argued was not an adequate amount of time to prepare for lessons and a transition back to in-person instruction.

The agreement was reached after about two days of discussions, and Natomas Unified will move forward with its plan to open elementary schools five days a week beginning April 12.

As part of the agreement, teachers will receive $250 to help pay for instructional materials, a one-time $1,000 stipend for teaching both in-person and remote students, and a stipend for additional teacher prep time, office hours and other resources. The district also announced plans for a 1% ongoing salary increase for teachers.

“Since the pandemic began, the Natomas Teachers’ Association has been committed to being a voice for students, educators and safety. We are pleased that this latest agreement with the district recognizes educators’ hard work and additional need for resources during this unprecedented time,” said Brenda Borge, Natomas Teachers’ Association president. “Together with the gains made in prior agreements, the steady voice of educators over this past year has helped ensure that classroom needs are met and safety remains a priority. Our teachers look forward to being back in the classroom on Monday following our spring break and finishing out strong during these last nine weeks of the school year.”

Sydney Johnson

Thursday, April 8, 2021, 4:16pm

Link copied.Teachers in Clovis, the state’s largest non-unionized district, announce organizing effort

Frustrated by what they say has been a lack of a say in decisions to reopen schools, a group of teachers at Clovis Unified, the only big California district without a teachers union, has announced a campaign to unionize. Clovis is the state’s 11th-largest district, with 41,200 students and 2,100 teachers and counselors.

In a letter released on Monday to the community kicking off the drive, signed by more than 70 teachers, the members of The Association of Clovis Educators wrote. “We are not abandoning our strong relationships with our district’s stakeholders; instead, we are offering a new path to create a truly unified district.”

Tensions surfaced Wednesday, when teachers backing the union complained at a school board meeting that the district was intimidating teachers not to sign up, the Fresno Bee reported. Teacher Melissa Ferdinandsen told the school board. “Just today, I was told by a colleague, ‘You better be careful. They are out to get you,’” the article said.

The district denied it was interfering and issued a statement that said Clovis has always followed an “open-door philosophy” between employees and administrators.

“We recognize that during the pandemic, these traditions of collaboration and finding win-win solutions have been challenged by the sharply divided views held on this subject within our community and among our own employee teams. We’ve also had to make rapid adjustments to respond to the changing conditions presented by the pandemic, which has been challenging,” the statement said.

Kristin Heimerdinger, an AP macroeconomics teacher at Buchanan High School for 28 years, said that interest in unionizing intensified since July, when the school board adopted a policy for fully reopening schools without considering several options that an employee committee had recommended.

Unlike union organizing for private companies, where employees hold a vote to form a union, public employee unions are authorized to represent employees once more than 50% of employees verify that they want a union. The organizers will now have up to a year from this week to get the required signatures, Heimerdinger said.

Founded in 1959, the district has a union representing bus drivers, custodians and maintenance workers affiliated with the California State Employees Association, but several efforts by teachers to unionize, dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, failed.

Clovis teachers have a Faculty Senate, but it’s advisory with no legal authority to negotiate on behalf of teachers. A new union would be affiliated with the California Teachers Association, which has been helping with organizing.

John Fensterwald

Thursday, April 8, 2021, 12:26pm

Link copied.UC San Diego to operate at close to full capacity in fall 2021

The University of California San Diego is planning to operate at a nearly full capacity this fall, the campus announced.

Residence halls on the campus will be close to 100% occupancy, with no more than two students per room, and classes will primarily be offered in person, according to the university.

Students will be tested for Covid-19 upon arriving to campus, but those who are vaccinated will not be required to undergo weekly Covid-19 testing. Students who are not vaccinated will be required to participate in weekly testing. The campus expects that 90% of students will be fully vaccinated by the fall.

“We’re ready to return to campus,” Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said in a statement. “Our students, faculty and staff went above and beyond throughout the pandemic to keep one another safe while continuing to learn, create and conduct research. While we learned many new ways to connect and serve our students over the past year, we are ready to reconnect in person, as safely as possible, in spaces specifically designed for collaborative learning and discovery.”

Thanks to a robust Covid-19 testing program and other strategies to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, UC San Diego has had 10,000 students living on campus this academic year, more than most other public universities in California, though almost all classes have been taught remotely.

Michael Burke

Wednesday, April 7, 2021, 3:46pm

Link copied.Lawmakers again consider requiring ethnic studies for a high school diploma

Last September, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed legislation that would make taking an ethnic studies course a high school graduation requirement. In his veto message, Newsom said he was troubled by the draft versions of the ethnic studies model curriculum and would direct his staff to work with State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to ensure the curriculum “achieves balance, fairness and is inclusive of all communities.”

With the state board’s final adoption last month of the model curriculum, the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday took the first step to sending a nearly identical bill back to Newsom. Assembly Bill 101, once again authored by Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, would require all districts and charter schools to offer at least a one-semester ethnic studies course starting in 2025-26 and to make it a graduation requirement starting with the Class of 2030.

The model curriculum, which school districts will have the discretion to use or ignore, had a contentious path, with multiple revisions, before the state board adopted it.

Critics and supporters still disagree whether it’s fair and balanced. And Newsom hasn’t indicated yet whether he would sign the new bill. But Thurmond, whose staff oversaw the model curriculum’s creation, endorsed it, and Darling-Hammond voted for it without expressing reservations. Newsom is proposing $7 million in next year’s state budget for training teachers in ethnic studies — an indication he’s ready to move on.

Comments and testimony at the hearing reflected continuing disagreements.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, said ethnic studies is important “in this era of looking at reconciliation and racial justice and the diversity of our students.” Referring to rising incidents of hate, McCarty said, “I can’t help to think that more understanding of culture and diversity and communities of color by young high school kids is only going to help the situation.”

Speaking to Medina, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, said, “I don’t have any doubt that your goal is to promote healing and understanding and empowerment.” But the adopted curriculum, he said, “does the opposite. And the reason we know that is because you’ve had various groups who have come forward and said, ‘We feel targeted by this. We feel like this curriculum is casting us in our history and our culture and our beliefs and our community in a negative light.’”

The bill was passed on a 5-2 vote, with McCarty in favor and Kiley against, and will head next to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. As a mandated cost, the state would have to reimburse districts for implementing the course. An Assembly analysis did not estimate the cost.

John Fensterwald

Wednesday, April 7, 2021, 11:18am

Link copied.S.F. Unified says all students can be back in person full time this fall

The San Francisco Board of Education on Tuesday voted that all students in the school district will have the option to be back on campus full time for in-person instruction for the 2020-21 school year, if Covid-19 safety guidelines permit.

The school board voted unanimously for a resolution titled “A Commitment to Returning Students to In-Person Learning by the First Day of School Year 2021-22,” which was introduced by Commissioner Jenny Lam.

If students cannot return to campus for medical reasons or other social-emotional needs, remote learning will be considered as an option, the resolution states.

“We appreciate all educators, staff, students, parents, and caregivers for their resiliency and all the effort that has gone into supporting distanced learning this past year. We also appreciate the many who are now executing a safe and gradual reopening for some of our PK-12 students this spring,” said Superintendent Vincent Matthews. “We are making progress and look forward to a new beginning next fall that serves all of our students the way we do best — in our schools.”

The decision comes alongside Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement on Tuesday that he expects all schools should be able to reopen fully for in-person instruction this fall if vaccinations continue to increase and Covid-19 cases continue to decline. However, it’s unclear what individual school districts may decide.

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

Sydney Johnson

Tuesday, April 6, 2021, 11:13am

Link copied.Student documentarians take home honors in C-SPAN competition

Several students from California have received honors and scholarship money for their entries in this year’s StudentCam, C-SPAN’s annual video documentary competition that encourages students to think critically about issues that affect their communities and the nation.

This year, students nationwide from grades 6-12 submitted 2,300 entries under the theme, “Explore the issue you most want the president and new Congress to address in 2021.”

Two students at the AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School, an Armenian-English dual language private school in Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley, won second prize for the West region and will receive $3,000 in prize money. Sofia Gevorgian and Anahit Malumyan submitted “Dear Congress and Mr. President, Recognize Artsakh.” Artsakh is a predominately Armenian-populated breakaway enclave within the region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus that has been under siege. C-SPAN will air the documentary throughout the day on April 18. You can watch it here.

Agamroop Kaur, a student at Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, will receive $1,500 as a second-prize winner in the West for the documentary, “BIG Tobacco BIGGER Epidemic,” about loopholes in federal regulations intended to restrict youth vaping. The documentary will air on C-SPAN throughout the day on Tuesday, April 6. You can watch it here.

Philip Avdey, a student at Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton, will receive $750 as a third-prize winner for the documentary, “Frontier,” about space exploration. Watch it here.

John Fensterwald

Tuesday, April 6, 2021, 11:00am

Link copied.California moves toward getting rid of reopening tier system

California is moving toward getting rid of its color-coded reopening tier system after June 15 as millions of residents receive Covid vaccines.

California Department of Public Health officials announced Monday that more than 20 million Californians had received at least the first dose of the vaccine, including 4 million from the state’s lowest-income communities, triggering a change in the current thresholds on the tier system. If the state maintains sufficient supply of the vaccine, and hospitalization rates continue to drop, the state will end the tier system on June 15, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced Tuesday.

“The entire state will move into this phase as a whole,” Ghaly said. “We can go to the movies, the beach, see families; we will do this all with science and data as our guide.”

It remained unclear Tuesday morning how much of an impact the change will have on school reopening in the fall. Under the current tier system, schools can offer in-person instruction after remaining out of the purple tier for 14 days. Schools in counties in the purple tier may offer in-person instruction to kindergarten and elementary students as long as the “average adjusted case rate” is below 25 cases per 100,000 population per day in that county, and they file a Covid Safety Plan.

Ali Tadayon

Monday, April 5, 2021, 2:09pm

Link copied.L.A. Unified to provide $500 monthly child care subsidy to some employees

Los Angeles Unified, California’s largest school district, will provide a $500 monthly subsidy to full-time employees with children age 5 and under who are enrolled in a child care program, according to a district press release. The subsidy will be available to district employees through the rest of the current semester. Employees who work during summer school will receive the subsidy through July 31.

Last month, a L.A. Unified teacher Maya Suzuki Daniels started an online petition requesting that the district offer accommodations for educators with children, as the district prepared to reopen for in-person instruction. Shortly after, United Teachers of Los Angeles, the teachers union, released a statement in support of offering child care or other accommodations for district employees with children.

The district cited an increase in cost of child care and a decrease in available options throughout the pandemic, adding pressure to parents who are now preparing to return to teach in their classrooms after a year of distance learning. To assist employees looking for child care programs for their children, the district will work with Service Employees International Union Local 99, Carina Care, and the Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles.

Betty Márquez Rosales

Monday, April 5, 2021, 12:49pm

Link copied.Six more parochial schools in Los Angeles area to close

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles plans to close six more schools, bringing the total to nine since last June.

The announcement reflects a pandemic-drive recession that has disproportionately hit low-income urban families. While interest in enrolling in private schools has surged among affluent families impatient with distance learning, urban parochial schools serving primarily Black and Latino blue-collar families have continued to struggle. In many cases, unemployed parents couldn’t afford annual tuition of about $4,000 to $6,000.

“This is a difficult and challenging time for our schools — schools that provide a service to our neediest children — and what you’re seeing here is a response to shifting demographics and declining enrollment that’s been happening for quite some time now,” L.A. Archdiocese schools Superintendent Paul Escala told the Los Angeles Times.

The archdiocese system, covering Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, enrolls 66,000 students in 262 schools. The six that will close were small, with 350 students and 50 staff members, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Escala said that 90% of the system’s elementary schools have been open fully or in hybrid and all 50 high schools will return on April 12.

John Fensterwald

Monday, April 5, 2021, 11:08am

Link copied.S.F. Unified superintendent pushes back retirement to June 2022

Just weeks after announcing his retirement, San Francisco Unified Superintendent Vincent Matthews said on Monday that he plans to stay with the school district through the following school year. His new retirement date is June 30, 2022.

Matthews, a graduate of San Francisco public schools, tweeted on Monday that the Board of Education had asked him to delay his retirement for another year, and he agreed.

“Right now, it’s time for the San Francisco school board to focus. It’s still our goal to get all of our students back to in-person learning and stabilize our budget as soon as possible. Far from shying away from this challenge, we are ready to do this,” said S.F. Board of Education President Gabriela López. “SFUSD needs stability at this time. We agreed that an inclusive community process for selecting the next superintendent could take up to a year. With that in mind, I asked the superintendent to delay his retirement by another year. His commitment to the well-being of our young people has shone through.”

Matthew’s earlier decision to leave the school district came amid a series of controversial decisions happening in the school district, including renaming 44 schools, stripping Lowell High School of merit-based admissions. Most recently, a lawsuit brought on by a school board member who was removed from her committee assignments and title as vice president after offensive tweets she made in 2016 about Asian Americans. Her tweets recently resurfaced and sparked backlash.

In February, López announced that the district is pausing its school renaming efforts after the district came under fire for its decision-making process, which led to a potential lawsuit and recall efforts targeting several board members, including López, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“I strive to maintain the humility and wisdom to change direction with new information and have agreed to remain with SFUSD for another year,” said Matthews. “I am dedicated to supporting all of our SFUSD staff as we navigate the many challenges and opportunities that lay ahead in the coming year.”

Sydney Johnson

Monday, April 5, 2021, 9:30am

Link copied.L.A. Unified to open 25 school-based vaccine centers for families

In an effort to increase the number of students returning to schools by increasing access to vaccines, Los Angeles Unified is opening 25 school-based vaccination sites for the families of students in coming weeks. The 25 sites are an increase from the two sites that were announced two weeks ago and which open on Tuesday.

“The opportunity gaps for students from families who are struggling to get by will only worsen if they’re not back in schools with their peers from more affluent neighborhoods,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said during a Monday morning broadcast. “It’s simple enough to see the solution — providing vaccinations for families with children in schools is the single most important thing we can do to get more children back in school classrooms.”

The first two sites will still be stationed at Abraham Lincoln High School in East Los Angeles and George Washington Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles. The third site will open on April 9 at Gage Middle School in Huntington Park, which is in the southeast Los Angeles region. All three communities have been particularly hard hit with high Covid-19 transmission rates, high death rates, and a slow vaccination rollout.

The first three vaccination sites for families are opening days before the school district will begin to reopen for in-person instruction under a hybrid format.

Betty Márquez Rosales

Friday, April 2, 2021, 10:31am

Link copied.Majority of San Diego parents want kids on campus, survey shows

Nearly 73% of parents in San Deigo Unified said that they want their child to participate in in-person instruction, a recent district-wide survey found. About 27% said they would stay in distance learning for the full year.

Like many school districts, however, San Diego Unified struggled to get full participation in its poll of reopening preferences. Just 64% of families responded to the survey, leaving out thousands of parents and some who may have more reservations about in-person instruction.

“We’re likely to have, at least at the beginning, more students return in the areas of the district that have been less impacted by the virus and fewer students return in the areas that have been more impacted by the virus,” said San Diego Unified board President Richard Barrera.

Some San Diego Unified schools will likely begin offering students four days a week of in-person instruction when the district reopens the week of April 12, the San Deigo Union-Tribune reports. However, schools with high percentages of students who wish to return to campus may only be able to offer two days per week in order to meet the district’s 5-feet social distancing requirements.

Sydney Johnson

Thursday, April 1, 2021, 1:00pm

Link copied.Every $1 investment in CSU yields nearly $7 return for state, report says

State investment in the 23-campus California State University system leads to more economic activity for California.

A new economic impact report from the system found that for every dollar that California invests in the CSU, $6.98 of positive economic activity is generated. When including earnings from CSU alumni, the impact increases to $29.90 in total economic activity for every dollar invested in the system, according to the report.

The report , which is a snapshot of the system’s economic impact, is based on college data from the 2018-19 academic year.  The analysis also includes data from the U.S. National Income and Product Accounts from the Bureau of Economic Analysis within the U.S. Department of Commerce. It examines labor, industry, employment and tax revenues.

The report also details a regional return on investment. For example, the Bay Area CSU campuses, which include CSU East Bay, Cal Maritime, San Francisco State, San Jose State and Sonoma State, supported 28,400 local jobs in 2019. They also supported $1.9 billion in labor income, more than $4.4 billion in regional industry activity and generated $236 million in state and local tax revenue.

Ashley A. Smith

Thursday, April 1, 2021, 11:17am

Link copied.Biden’s infrastructure plan includes $100 billion for school construction, repairs

More federal funding for K-12 schools nationwide will keep flowing, if Congress passes the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan that President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday to address infrastructure needs.

The plan would allot $100 billion for K-12 construction and repairs, split 50-50 between grants and matching state and local bonds. Priority would go to upgrading ventilation systems and meeting health and safety problems that the Covid-19 pandemic exposed in many schools in California and across the nation. Money would also be available for new school construction, particularly in low-income communities.

This funding would be on top of the $123 billion for K-12 that Congress approved last month in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan for reopening schools. That funding, directing $13 billion to California, permits using some of the funding for school facility repairs needed to help prevent the transmission of Covid.

The new infrastructure plan also allocates $45 billion to replace lead pipes nationwide, which will enable schools and day care centers to address lead contamination (see “Tainted Taps: Lead Puts California Students At Risk,” an EdSource special project that exposes dangers from lead in schools). And Biden is proposing $100 billion to extend high-speed internet nationwide; a recent report commissioned by the California Public Utilities Commission estimated the cost of building fiber connections to every unserved building and house in the state would be $6.8 billion.

The plan also would include $12 billion for construction and repairs of community colleges and $25 billion to build and upgrade child care facilities in areas that need it most.

Biden’s plan will face Republican opposition, because it would be funded through higher taxes on businesses for the next 15 years. Republicans also have opposed construction money for schools, which traditionally have been a state and local obligation.

John Fensterwald

Wednesday, March 31, 2021, 3:12pm

Link copied.University of California targeted in cyber attack

The University of California said Wednesday that it was subject to a cyber attack that has compromised the personal information of some individuals in the university community.

According to the ten-campus university system, the cyber attack “involves the use of Accellion, a vendor used by many organizations for secure file transfer, in which an unauthorized individual appears to have copied and transferred UC files by exploiting a vulnerability in Accellion’s file transfer service.”

Other universities, government agencies and companies were also attacked, according to UC.

Those who were behind the attack posted screenshots of personal information of the affected individuals, UC said. UC did not say which individuals have been impacted but added in a statement that they would “notify members of the UC community if we believe their data was leaked in this manner.”

UC also said it has contacted federal law enforcement and has launched its own investigation.

“UC’s investigation includes a review of the files we believe may have been copied and transferred as part of this attack. Upon completion of our review, we should be able to better assess the data and individuals impacted. Once we can identify affected individuals, we will notify them and provide information regarding additional next steps,” the university said.

-Michael Burke

Michael Burke

Wednesday, March 31, 2021, 10:33am

Link copied.U.S. could have universal preschool in 30 years, report says

Even as President Joe Biden rolls out his proposal to rebuild the nation’s child care infrastructure, the National Institute for Early Education at Rutgers University has released a report that shows how the U.S. could have universal preschool within the next 30 years.

Right now, the nation’s public preschools currently serve only 1.8 million children, the report says, widening existing achievement gaps. This plan prioritizes both raising the quality of programs and enrolling children from low-income families first. 

“At its current pace and without federal government leadership, the United States won’t reach all children with free preschool before 2100,” said Steven Barnett, founder and senior co-director of the institute. “This proposed cost-sharing partnership provides a measured and predictable path to universal high-quality preschool within a reasonable time frame.”

States are more likely to invest more in preschool education if they receive federal help, experts say. That’s why this plan asks the federal government to match state and local investments for children under 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Researchers estimate the two-part plan would cost the federal government $7.7 billion and state and local governments $13.3 billion during the first four years. The goal is to enroll all low-income 3- and 4-year-olds within 20 years and then expand to all 3- and 4-year-olds in an additional 10 years.

“With each year we delay,” as the report says, “a new group of children miss out on critical years of education they will never get back.” 

Karen D'Souza

Wednesday, March 31, 2021, 10:29am

Link copied.Pfizer says vaccine safe and effective for adolescents

Pfizer announced that its vaccine against Covid-19 is safe and “100% effective” for people as young as 12. The pharmaceutical company recently finished trials in 12-15 year-olds and will be presenting its findings soon to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to ask for the vaccine to be approved for use in adolescents.

The trial included 2,260 trial participants. During the trial, 18 people in the control group, who did not receive a vaccine, developed Covid-19. None of the people who got a vaccine developed the disease.

Zaidee Stavely

Wednesday, March 31, 2021, 10:28am

Link copied.Schools need to invest to help students with disabilities catch up after pandemic, report says

Students in special education — especially students of color — have suffered disproportionate impacts from school closures and the pandemic and will need extra assistance to catch up, according to a recent report from UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies.

Loss of instructional time, limited counseling and tutoring services and family trauma, such as unemployment or losing a loved one to Covid, have all contributed to bleak conditions for students in special education in many districts, the report says.

The report, “Disabling Inequity: the urgent need for race-conscious resource remedies,” also examined the high rates of discipline, absenteeism and interactions with police among students in special education, compared to their peers who are not enrolled in special education.

The report highlights important inequities that school districts need to prioritize, especially as campuses reopen, said Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director of the Center for Learner Equity, a nonprofit that advocates for students with disabilities.

“We cannot afford to lose sight of the pressing need to address how our education system frequently fails children with disabilities, especially black children with disabilities,” she said. “As Covid relief funds start to flow to districts, they have to consider these data points and make investments focused on providing desperately needed supports and services for our most complex learners, addressing the institutionalized racism and ableism that is far too common in our society.”

The report recommends that the federal government improve its data collection and investigations related to school discipline, discrimination and students with disabilities. And as campuses reopen, school districts should bolster their counseling and instructional staffs to help students who’ve fallen behind or suffered trauma or other hardships during the pandemic.

Carolyn Jones

Tuesday, March 30, 2021, 2:34pm

Link copied.UC San Diego graduate students call for rent strike

Graduate students at the University of California, San Diego are calling for a rent strike in response to increased campus housing costs that are set to take effect this fall, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Rents will increase for graduate-school housing this fall and in some cases will be $500 or $1,000 higher per month than current rates, according to the newspaper.

“The university puts out a lot of messaging around diversity, equity and inclusion, but when it comes to putting your money where your mouth is and making it affordable, then we don’t see it,” Casey Meehan, who lives on campus and is pursuing a doctorate in computer science, told the Union-Tribune.

A spokeswoman for the campus, Leslie Sepuka, told the newspaper in an email that “while the one-time rate adjustment will increase rental rates, on-campus rental rates will continue to be more favorable than the local rental market.”

-Michael Burke

Michael Burke

Tuesday, March 30, 2021, 2:33pm

Link copied.Elementary students in Long Beach return to in-person school

About 14,000 elementary school students in Long Beach Unified returned to in-person classes Monday, the first day of face-to-face instruction at the district in more than a year.

Long Beach Unified is the fourth largest district in California and the largest to welcome students back to campuses. Students who are attending in-person classes are doing so for five days per week, and about 2.5 hours each day.

“SO much thought & care put into preparing classrooms for the return of our little ones. I loved talking to Kindergartners at Alvarado, Edison & Longfellow about how they felt today. They shared the duality of nerves & excitement. All of the feels!” Jill Baker, the superintendent of the district, wrote in a tweet.

-Michael Burke

Michael Burke

Tuesday, March 30, 2021, 2:00pm

Link copied.Only three counties remain in purple tier

As millions of Covid vaccine doses are distributed in California and the number of new Covid cases continues to drop, only three of the state’s 58 counties remain in the most restrictive tier on the state’s reopening tier system.

San Joaquin, Inyo and Merced counties remained in the purple or “widespread” tier as of Tuesday, according to the California Department of Public Health. Thirty-six counties were in the red or “substantial” tier and 17 were in the orange or “moderate” tier. Alpine and Sierra counties were the only two that had made it to the yellow or “minimal” tier.

Under the state’s guidelines, schools can offer in-person instruction after remaining out of the purple tier for 14 days. Schools in counties in the purple tier may offer in-person instruction to kindergarten and elementary students as long as the “average adjusted case rate” is below 25 cases per 100,000 population per day in that county, and they file a Covid Safety Plan.

Ali Tadayon

Tuesday, March 30, 2021, 1:10pm

Link copied.Nearly 91% of Californians now have internet, but low-income residents still struggle to connect

Internet access in California has reached a new high with now nearly 91% of residents connected to the internet at home, according to a study released Tuesday by USC and the California Emerging Technologies Fund.

The latest estimate is up from 88% in 2019. And as connectivity overall has increased, the number of people connecting via a smartphone only has declined, meaning more people have the option to connect via computers.

“We depend on the internet for work, for learning, for access to government services, including access to vaccines,” said Hernan Galperin, principal researcher for the study. “The pandemic has really magnified this dependence to the point that we should increasingly talk about having internet at home the way we talk about having water or electricity. It is a basic utility of our time.”

While the results show more residents have devices in their hands, income remains one of the biggest barriers to internet connection across the state. According to the study, more than 1 in 4 low-income households are unconnected or under connected, in contrast to near-universal adoption among higher-income households.

The situation has gotten worse for some low-income households during the pandemic that may have already had internet but had to stop paying for their service in order to prioritize other basic needs.

“Those who were already low-income were falling off into deep poverty and greater isolation during the pandemic,” said Sunne Wright McPeak, president and CEO of the California Emerging Technologies Fund. “We find that the lowest-income households are the most fragile. They literally have a churn of up to 50% where the household is changing status of connectivity every year.”

The study found that school districts providing laptops and tablets for students played a significant role in improving computer access to families across the state. But authors of the study said there’s room for concern going forward around whether districts will be able to continue to pay for hotspots and devices that got them through the pandemic.

To address ongoing infrastructure needs to help close the digital divide, a coalition of education groups on Tuesday wrote a letter urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to allocate a one-time $8 billion investment in broadband and fiber connections across the state. The amount is based on results from a recent report commissioned by the California Public Utilities Commission that estimated the cost of building fiber connections to every unserved building and house in the state would be $6.8 billion. The budget allocation proposal is asking for $2.2 billion to construct a statewide open-access fiber network and $4.6 billion to provide high-speed fiber optics to buildings and houses currently without it.

“The time is now to lay a foundation that removes the barriers that have systematically denied access to connectivity to our most vulnerable students and families,” said Tatia Davenport, CEO of the California Association of School Business Officials. “This request is our opportunity to implement a strategic vision that will have a significant, meaningful and long-lasting benefit to our 6.1 million students and California communities.”

Sydney Johnson