California education news: What’s the latest?

Friday, March 19, 2021, 12:06pm

Link copied.San Francisco Unified faces lawsuit after school renaming decision

On the heels of a controversial decision to rename 44 schools in San Francisco Unified, the school district now faces a legal battle brought on by a local law firm and constitutional scholar, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Plaintiffs in the case are arguing that the district did not provide the public with enough time or notification about the decision to rename 44 schools, which include names of historical figures that have been linked to racism, including Jefferson Elementary and Abraham Lincoln High School. Attorney Paul Scott, who has children enrolled in San Francisco Unified, demanded that the school board reverse its decision within 30 days.

“A lot of people expressed concern about the school board’s action,” Scott said, “and it seemed a gross abuse of due process in failing to get a fair and full input from the community.”

SFUSD has until April 16 to respond to the lawsuit. The school board’s decision in January remains in place for now and schools are required to suggest new names by mid-April.

Sydney Johnson

Thursday, March 18, 2021, 5:27pm

Link copied.West Contra Costa Unified reaches tentative agreement with union to reopen schools

West Contra Costa Unified and its teachers union, the United Teachers of Richmond, reached a tentative agreement Thursday afternoon for a return to classrooms in the spring.

Both the district and the teachers union announced the agreement after their third bargaining session this week. They didn’t immediately offer details of the plan but promised more information Friday.

West Contra Costa Unified’s campuses have remained closed during the pandemic. It’s previous agreement with employee unions was not to reopen until: all ZIP codes within the district were in the orange or “moderate” tier on the state’s reopening tier system for 21 consecutive days; the case rates in surrounding counties of Alameda and Solano counties dropped below 10 per 100,000 population; and the positivity rate dropped below 3%.

After a group of parents criticized that agreement as being too stringent to allow for in-person instruction in the spring, the district’s school board unanimously directed staff on March 4 to return to the bargaining table with its unions.

United Teachers of Richmond members will vote to ratify the plan next week, and union leaders will answer teachers’ questions at a town hall March 24.

Ali Tadayon

Thursday, March 18, 2021, 4:48pm

Link copied.California schools receive up to 3 million free rapid Covid tests

In an effort to boost the safe reopening of schools, California officials today announced plans to distribute up to 3 million rapid antigen Covid-19 tests to schools that primarily serve students who live in poverty.

“It’s imperative we get these tests — another valuable tool among many options to enable a safe return of children to the classroom — into the hands of those who may lack the access to testing or medical care,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. “Being able to quickly identify who is positive, and who is not, will be critically important for day-to-day operations on a school campus and will help protect not only students but teachers and support staff.”

The rapid tests are free for selected schools and can be administered by any school staff member who has received training, which will be provided by the California Covid-19 Testing Taskforce. Results for most tests are available in just 15 minutes and can help schools identify individuals who do not or have yet to show symptoms of Covid-19.

The announcement comes about two months after the California Endowment, the Public Health Institute, and the California Covid-19 Testing Task Force ran a pilot program called Safely Opening Schools that used rapid testing at 11 school districts and more than 41,000 students.

The pilot supported the strategies highlighted by state health and education officials for safe school reopening, finding only 7 positive cases out of 3,256 tests conducted.

“Antigen testing is one testing component of a full suite of Covid-19 testing offered by California and the Covid-19 Testing Taskforce. I’m proud that we can expand access to some of our highest-need schools and communities in California,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said.

Sydney Johnson

Thursday, March 18, 2021, 3:39pm

Link copied.Los Angeles Unified employees want district to provide childcare

Los Angeles Unified employees are circulating an online petition requesting that the district provide childcare services for teachers and staff as some of them prepare to return to their classrooms for in-person learning in April.

“We call on LAUSD to stand behind a commitment to get through this crisis together by offering parents and care-giving educators the same choice they are offering families at large — the opportunity to continue caring for our loved ones — without leaving our jobs as the current model requires,” the petition reads. “Accommodations for working parents and care-givers are essential to ensuring that LAUSD retains employees.”

The petition was launched Sunday by Maya Suzuki Daniels, a San Pedro High School teacher and mother of three. It has so far garnered over 1,500 signatures.

United Teachers of Los Angeles, the district’s teachers’ union, later issued a statement in support of the district providing accommodations for employees with childcare needs.

The district reached a tentative school reopening agreement with UTLA earlier this month that has been ratified by the district’s school board. The union’s members will be voting this week on whether to ratify it.

Betty Márquez Rosales

Wednesday, March 17, 2021, 3:54pm

Link copied.New college graduates in California the 10th-lowest paid among states

Recent college graduates living in California last year earned the 10th-lowest wages among the states, adjusted for regional costs of living, according to financial data released by Self Financial, a financial technology company that helps people build credit.

The cost-adjusted median earnings of college grads ages 22 to 27 in 41st-place California was $42,955.  In 6th-highest Texas, a destination for some Californians fleeing the state during the pandemic, the median was $49,741. There is such a wide disparity in ranking because California’s cost of living is 16.4% higher than the national average, second only to Hawaii, compared with 3.5% below the national average in Texas.

North Dakota, where the cost of living is 10.7% below average, but the cost of enduring winter is off the charts, had the top median wage — $53,751.

The data was collected as of pre-Covid March 2020. “College graduates seeking employment last spring faced the worst job market since the Great Depression, and it remains to be seen how wages will be affected in the coming years,” the study noted.

The study also looked at earnings in the 50 largest metropolitan areas. Even after factoring in the high cost of living, the high-tech San Jose-Santa Clara-Sunnyvale area was #1, with a median earning of $56,827 — $3,000 ahead of #2 St. Louis.

San Francisco was 7th ($52,045); Sacramento was 37th ($43,441); Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim was 44th ($40,404), and San Diego was 48th ($39,016).

John Fensterwald

Wednesday, March 17, 2021, 2:19pm

Link copied.Interim chancellor of Peralta Community College District resigns

Carla Walter, the interim chancellor of the Peralta Community College District, has announced her resignation from that position, the district confirmed Wednesday.

Walter was named interim chancellor last fall and was expected to remain in the position until June or until the district hired a permanent chancellor. The district is still searching for a permanent chancellor, but Walter is resigning because of “personal reasons,” said Cynthia Napoli-Abella Reiss, the president of Peralta’s Board of Trustees, in a statement.

The Peralta district is based in Oakland and includes four colleges: Laney College and Merritt College in Oakland, Berkeley City College and the College of Alameda.

Walter’s resignation, which is effective April 15, is the latest example of frequent turnover at Peralta’s top executive positions. Her predecessor, Regina Stanback Stroud, was the permanent chancellor at Peralta for just nine months before resigning amid conflicts with Peralta’s Board of Trustees.

When Peralta hires its next chancellor, that will mark the fifth chancellor the district has had in just over two years. Two of those former chancellors — Walter and Fran White — were interim chancellors.

Walter’s resignation also comes as the district is under scrutiny from the state because of fiscal instability, accreditation issues and past conflicts between trustees and top administrators.

“We are fortunate to have had a strong and committed leader at the PCCD helm during these past eight months and we are sad to have Dr. Walter depart as she has helped guide the District through the pandemic,” Reiss said in her statement Wednesday.

Michael Burke

Wednesday, March 17, 2021, 11:54am

Link copied.Mills College will close university, open institute

Mills College in Oakland will no longer enroll first-year students after this fall, according to a message from President Elizabeth L. Hillman, posted to its website today.

The private liberal arts and sciences college has seen declining enrollment in recent years. That, paired with economic hardships brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, resulted in the decision to shift away from being a degree-granting college.

Instead, school officials plan to establish an institute on the campus that will foster women’s leadership, advance gender and racial equity, and cultivate innovative pedagogy, research, and critical thinking, Hillman said .

“Since it began as a small seminary in Benicia, California, Mills has brought learning and inspiration to those who might not otherwise have found it,” Hillman said. “The next chapter in Mills’ history will do likewise, serving Mills’ educational mission and sustaining its commitment to equity. We will need everyone’s help to navigate a successful transition and write that next chapter.”

Mills College was founded as the Young Ladies Seminary in 1852 in Benicia. It moved to Oakland in 1858 as an all-woman’s college.

The college, which enrolls only women as undergraduates and offers a co-educational graduate program, suffered some losses during the
pandemic and previous years.  Its overall enrollment declined 14% from 1,122 in fall 2019 to 961 fall 2020.  The loss of tuition and revenues
from residential halls particularly hurt, officials said.

The university is expected to graduate its last class of students in 2023, although its board has yet to vote on the matter.

The school will develop plans for each degree program that will enable existing students to earn a Mills degree or transfer to another university, according to Hillman. Admissions staff will help students who wish to transfer to other schools.

Diana Lambert

Wednesday, March 17, 2021, 11:46am

Link copied.Biden administration to offer Covid-19 tests for schools

The federal government is investing $10 billion into Covid-19 testing for schools in an effort to hasten reopening.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced today that the funding will go out to states by April. It can be used for schools to conduct regular screening tests to identify teachers, staff and students who have Covid-19 but do not have symptoms, or for testing teachers, staff and students who have symptoms or who might have been exposed to someone with Covid-19.

Zaidee Stavely

Wednesday, March 17, 2021, 9:30am

Link copied.School desks could be 3 feet apart, according to new study

A new study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases suggests that students who are masked can be seated 3 feet apart instead of 6 feet apart, with no additional risk.

The research focused on schools in Massachusetts which set desks 3 feet apart. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are now reconsidering their social distancing guidelines for schools, based on the study. Other states are now looking into changing their guidelines as well.

The distance at which desks must be set apart to avoid spreading Covid-19 is one of the reasons why many schools are opting for a hybrid model when they reopen classrooms, in which students take turns coming to class on different days or times of day. Another reason for the hybrid model is that keeping class sizes small also reduces the risk of spreading the virus.

Zaidee Stavely

Tuesday, March 16, 2021, 1:06pm

Link copied.9,000 California schools on track to reopen; 47 counties move out of purple tier

About 9,000 of California’s 11,000 schools are open or on track to open as 400,000 educators have received at least their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday at an elementary school in Alameda.

Newsom also announced that 47 of the state’s 58 counties were out of the most restrictive level on the state’s reopening tier system as of Tuesday, following a months-long drop in new Covid-19 cases. The only counties that remained in the purple tier Tuesday were Glenn, Inyo, Kern, Nevada, Yuba, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, and Kings.

The majority of the state was in the red, or “substantial” tier Tuesday. Four counties were in the orange, “moderate” tier and Alpine County was the only one in the yellow “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 16, 2021, 11:35am

Link copied.San Diego County judge blocks state from enforcing school reopening rules

A San Diego County judge on Monday issued a ruling blocking California from enforcing rules that limited school re-openings, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

Judge Cynthia Freeland sided with parents who sued state leaders and wanted to overturn school reopening rules that the state issued in January. It’s unclear what impact the ruling will have statewide.

The rules issued in January prevented middle and high schools from reopening while their county remains in the purple tier, the most restrictive in California’s system that assigns each county a tier based on the spread of Covid-19 in each county. San Diego is expected to enter the red tier this week, so high schools and middle schools in the county would be eligible to reopen anyway,  according to The Tribune.

The state’s January rules also required schools that reopen to have at least four feet of distance between students in classrooms.

Michael Burke

Tuesday, March 16, 2021, 11:29am

Link copied.UC Merced will guarantee admission to local high school students who meet GPA requirements

UC Merced announced Monday that it will guarantee admission to students in a local school district who meet requirements ahead of graduation.

Students who graduate from Merced Unified High School District with a grade point average of 3.5 or better and have no grade lower than a C will be automatically admitted to UC Merced under the new program.

There are six high schools in that district: Atwater, Buhach Colony, El Capitan, Golden Valley, Livingston and Merced high schools. The district also includes four alternative education schools: Independence, Sequoia, Yosemite and Merced Adult.

“We were established not just in the Valley but for the Valley, and we will hold true to that promise,” UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz said while announcing the new program Monday. “We want every family in Merced County to know that a University of California education is right here close to home, and that you have the possibility to go from kindergarten through Ph.D. within minutes of your home, if you put in the work.”

Michael Burke

Monday, March 15, 2021, 5:10pm

Link copied.Oakland Unified reaches deal to bring students back beginning March 30

Oakland Unified has joined the list of school districts that will begin bringing back small cohorts of students after striking a deal with the teachers’ union over the weekend.

The plan, which still has to be voted on by the Oakland Education Association and school board, would bring back students in two phases. Students in grades PK-2 and other high-needs students are invited to return beginning March 30. Starting April 19, in-person instruction will be expanded to grades 4 and 5, as well as “at least one secondary grade,” according to a district announcement.

“We reached a tentative agreement that is just, equitable, and most importantly, safe. We believe that phasing in student return on April 19 allows all educators to complete their vaccinations, if they so choose, and for California’s targeted vaccination program to reach our most vulnerable communities,” said Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown. “This agreement also provides time to engage in the work of setting up the next agreement for a comprehensive hybrid model, which would meet the unique needs of our students, families, and members.”

Students will be able to stay in distance learning if they choose to. More than half of elementary-age families said they would like to return to in-person instruction, according to a survey conducted by OUSD in early March that received responses from 92% of families with children in grades TK-5.

“This is a critical step forward for our students, families and staff, as we all can now see the light at the end of the tunnel of this year-long ordeal,” said Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell.

Sydney Johnson

Monday, March 15, 2021, 4:29pm

Link copied.Despite pandemic, Cal Poly students host massive “St. Fratty’s Day” block party

Police were forced to break up a block party held by hundreds of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students early Saturday, according to the Los Angeles Times

Officers were forced to disperse the crowd and two people were arrested near campus on suspicion of driving under the influence. Many of the students were not wearing masks and were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, according to the San Luis Obsipo Tribune. 

Last week, the campus sent out guidance about spring break and St. Patrick’s Day activities. Students typically celebrate St. Fratty’s Day during the week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day on March 17.

“As of now, case counts are declining but to continue this trend, it is important to remain vigilant during St. Patrick’s Day. In the past, occasions that promote gatherings often lead to an increase in positive Covid case counts soon after,” according to the campus guidance.


Ashley A. Smith

Monday, March 15, 2021, 1:56pm

Link copied.Early parent survey results show half of LA Unified students will remain in distance learning

About half of Los Angeles Unified students will remain in distance learning even after campuses reopen in April, according to preliminary results from a district survey sent to parents. So far, about 10% of families have responded to the district’s survey.

“While it’s still early and the numbers will change, we see the greatest reluctance to sending their children back to schools in the communities hardest hit by the virus,” Supt. Austin Beutner said in his weekly Monday broadcast. “These also happen to be the same communities where families are struggling to get by and most likely to have had someone in the family who lost work due to the virus.”

In the Jefferson and South Central communities, which have experienced a death rate of 339 per 100,000 and a 7% vaccination rate, 37% of families have indicated support for in-person learning for elementary schools, 35% for middle schools, and 41% for high schools. In West Los Angeles, where the death rate is 81 per 100,000 and the vaccination rate currently stands at 26%, more than three-fourths of families so far have indicated support for in-person learning for elementary schools, 54% for middle schools, and 35% for high schools.


Betty Márquez Rosales

Monday, March 15, 2021, 9:39am

Link copied.$5 Covid antigen tests now available for California school districts

The California Department of Education announced last week that the state has purchased 5 million rapid-result Covid antigen tests that school districts can buy for $5 each.

The BinaxNOW antigen tests, produced by Abbot Labs, can provide results indicating the presence of the infection within 15 minutes. They are an added safety measure that districts can deploy as part of their strategy to reopen schools, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said.

Compton, Pomona and Redwood City are among the school districts using BinaxNow tests in a state pilot program, and Fresno Unified will soon join them, according to a webinar last week. The Los Angeles County Office of Education is also considering deploying them, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Like the PCR tests used by the state-run lab in Valencia, CA, rapid antigen tests obtain specimens through a swab inserted in the nose. Although PCR tests detect presence of the virus in more minuscule amounts — and thus earlier — than antigen tests, the turnaround time for the state lab is one to three days, and the state’s charge, though less expensive than earlier this year, is now $21 per test.

Antigen tests are useful in detecting community rates of infectiousness, particularly in asymptomatic individuals, and are more effective than when they were first available last spring, epidemiologist Charity Dean, former cochair of the Governor’s California Testing Task Force, said. A common strategy is to test all willing students and staff twice a week, she said.

Initial tests among students and staff in some of the pilot districts revealed a very low positivity rate of 0.4%, reinforcing that “schools are a very safe” place to be, Dean said.

Districts are not required to conduct Covid testing of students and staff that have submitted school reopening plans by April 1, under the law that Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature negotiated and that Newsom signed into law earlier this month. However, districts that do testing as one more assurance for the safe return of students can use state and federal Covid funding to pay for them.

John Fensterwald

Friday, March 12, 2021, 9:47am

Link copied.Parents sue San Diego Unified over lack of in-person classes

Three San Diego Unified School District parents filed a class-action lawsuit against the district this week, alleging that it has failed to provide enough in-person instruction or adequate online instruction during the pandemic.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the lawsuit argues that San Diego Unified violated Senate Bill 98 because it did not offer in-person learning for most students. SB 98 says that school districts and charter schools “shall offer in-person instruction, and may offer distance learning,” but it also says schools can offer distance learning if they have been ordered by a state or local public health officer, or for students whose health would be at risk by in-person instruction.

Zaidee Stavely

Friday, March 12, 2021, 9:43am

Link copied.Los Angeles and San Francisco schools could reopen in April

School boards of Los Angeles Unified and San Francisco Unified, two of the largest school districts in the state, voted to approve deals with their teacher unions that would return elementary students to classrooms by mid-April.

Teachers still have to vote whether to approve the deals.

Under the San Francisco agreement, children in preschool through 5th grade, special education students and vulnerable older groups could go back to in-person school on April 12. Depending on how many students want to return to in-person learning, some students would go to school four full days and one partial day every week, while others would attend in-person school two full days and do three days of distance learning.

Under the Los Angeles agreement, elementary-school students could return to in-person class five days a week for three hours a day. Children could also stay on campus for the rest of the day for child care.

Middle and high school students would still not return for in-person learning in either district, though they could attend child care in Los Angeles.

Zaidee Stavely

Thursday, March 11, 2021, 1:52pm

Link copied.Lodi Unified teachers union files labor practice complaint

The teachers’ union for the Lodi Unified School District has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the district for planning to reopen campuses before San Joaquin County Covid-19 infection rates go down, a move union leaders say is in conflict with an agreement previously made with the district.

The district’s plan to begin reopening school campuses on March 29 is in conflict with the agreement it made with its union to continue distance learning until the county moves into the red tier, according to a press release from the union. The red tier indicates there is substantial spread of the virus in the community, but it is less restrictive than the purple tier, which indicates widespread infection.

Unfair labor practice complaints are reviewed by the California Public Employment Relations Board, which determines if a charge is warranted.

“The current agreement contains many measures that the district and educators agreed upon to keep our community safe,” said Michelle Orgon, president of the Lodi Education Association. “It is so unfortunate it had to come down to this, but when the safety and health of our community are at risk, we have no choice.”

The goal has always been to return to in-person instruction as soon as possible, with health and safety measure in place, said Chelsea Vongehr, district spokeswoman. The district has 30,000 desk shields, air filters in classrooms and offices, and hand washing stations on campuses, she said.

All teachers and staff also have been offered vaccinations, according to Vongehr.

“The declining Covid-19 numbers in our county indicate a strong possibility of being assigned to the red tier next week. It is paramount that our students are given the opportunity to be on campus learning in-person and interacting with classmates,” Vongehr said.

Union leaders are suggesting that school campuses reopen on April 5, after spring break, if the county has moved to the red tier. This would allow school sites to prepare campuses and for families to adjust their schedules, according to the press release.

Diana Lambert

Thursday, March 11, 2021, 1:46pm

Link copied.San Diego Unified board approves funds for summer school

The San Diego Unified school board has approved $22 million for in-person and online summer school to help students who have fallen behind academically because of school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

At a board meeting Tuesday school officials reported that 1 in 5 San Diego Unified seniors are not on track to graduate this June. High school grades fell overall, with the number of D’s and F’s increasing from 15% to 21%. Middle school grades are down as well, with the number of D’s and F’s climbing from 12% to 23% compared to last year at this time, according to the report.

The district has kept campuses closed since March of last year, but began offering in-person instruction to small groups of students with academic and social needs in October, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The district plans to offer in-person summer school to elementary school students four hours a day, with additional hours of online learning. Half-day programs will be offered for middle and high school students on campuses, as well as an online credit recovery program for high school students.

The classes are optional. Students who are struggling academically will be given priority, according to the report.

Diana Lambert

Thursday, March 11, 2021, 1:25pm

Link copied.Spring undergraduate enrollment down across the United States

Undergraduate enrollment is down this spring across the United States, especially at community colleges, according to preliminary data published Thursday by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Overall, undergraduate enrollment is down 4.5% this term compared to spring 2021, according to the preliminary data. Community colleges have been the most impacted, with enrollment at those colleges down by 9.5% compared to a year ago.

Those trends mirror the enrollment changes in fall 2020, when enrollment was down across the country’s public four-year colleges and especially among community colleges.

It’s not yet clear how enrollment has changed this spring at California’s public colleges and universities. In the fall, undergraduate enrollment was up slightly across the University of California and California State University. However, enrollment dropped significantly at the state’s community colleges, with some colleges losing 20% or more students compared to fall 2019.

Michael Burke

Wednesday, March 10, 2021, 10:49am

Link copied.San Francisco Unified School District superintendent to retire

San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Vincent Matthews announced today that he plans to retire on June 30.

Matthews did not say why he is choosing to leave his job at the district.

“Though it saddens me to leave at a time when our district is already experiencing so many destabilizing hardships brought on by this pandemic, after much reflection, I believe this is the right time. There are many new commissioners on the SF Board of Education and I want them to have the opportunity to select a new superintendent who is aligned with their approach,” Matthews said in a statement.

Matthews said he would not discuss the decision in more detail now, because he wants to focus on bringing students back to in-person learning and continuing to provide distance learning.

San Francisco Board of Education President Gabriela Lopez said in a press release that the board will work on hiring a replacement.

“We deeply appreciate Superintendent Matthews’ leadership and the care he has shown to the SFUSD community. And we’re excited and happy for Dr. Matthews as we wish him a long and happy retirement,” Lopez said. “He has been a steadfast and focused partner as we have prioritized the safe reopening of schools during the pandemic. We are fortunate to have worked with an educator who is a native of San Francisco and proud alumni of our public schools.”

Zaidee Stavely

Tuesday, March 9, 2021, 7:27pm

Link copied.Newsom: 7,000 schools are open or plan to open by mid-April

Gov. Gavin Newsom, in his third annual State of the State address Tuesday, touted that 7,000 out of more than 11,000 California schools are open or plan to open by mid-April.

The announcement comes less than a week after the signing of an agreement with the legislature for a $6.6 billion plan to phase in in-person instruction by next month. It also comes as recall campaign organizers submit the final signatures needed to hold an election on whether to remove him from office.

Republicans have hammered the Democratic governor over the issue of school closures in an apparent attempt to capitalize on the mounting frustration among parents.

“There’s nothing more foundational to an equitable society than getting our kids safely back into the classrooms. Remote learning has exacerbated the gaps that we’ve all been working so hard to close,” Newsom said during his address Tuesday. “Our kids are missing too many rights of passage: field trips, proms, and graduations.”

Newsom, himself a father of school-aged children, said he understands the fatigue among parents tasked with facilitating distance learning for their children. He also pointed out that in December many districts contemplated remaining closed for the rest of the school year.

“In just a few months since, working together with parents and teachers and school leaders, we’ve turned the conversation from whether to reopen to when,” Newsom said. “Every single day, more and more schools are announcing reopening dates.”

In order to ensure that every student returns to the classroom, the state has delivered three months worth of personal protective equipment to every school preparing to offer in-person instruction, enabled schools to provide routine Covid testing, and reserved 10% of its vaccine supply for educators.

Ali Tadayon

Tuesday, March 9, 2021, 2:16pm

Link copied.Six counties, including Alameda and Solano, move out of purple tier

Six counties were moved out of the most restrictive level on the state’s reopening tier system on Tuesday as the number of new Covid-19 cases continues to drop and more than 3 million people received their second vaccine dose.

Alameda, Solano, Butte, Calaveras, Imperial and Santa Cruz counties are the latest to move from the purple, or “widespread” tier to the red, or “substantial” tier, bringing the total number of “red” counties to 20. Three counties — Sierra, Plumas and Mariposa — were in the orange, or “moderate” tier as of Tuesday. Alpine county had been moved to the yellow, or “minimal” tier.

The majority of the state — 34 of 58 counties — remained in the purple tier Tuesday. Those 34 counties include 711 public school districts and 1,029 charters serving a total of 5,046,284 students — 83.11% of the state’s total enrollment.

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 9, 2021, 11:26am

Link copied.UC Davis offering $75 to students who stay in over spring break

As universities prepare for a potential Covid-19 spike following spring break, one California campus is offering students a cash incentive to avoid spring break festivities.

The University of California, Davis announced in a Facebook post this week that it is offering students $75 to stay in their dorms or home during this year’s spring break, CNN reports.

Campus officials hope the staycation stipend will encourage students to spend their time and money at local Davis businesses rather than traveling for the break, according to the post. Students can apply for the so-called grants through a school-run website, and up to 500 students will be awarded the cash.

UC Davis recommends that students should get tested three or four days before or after a trip if they do decide to travel, and those who travel out of state must quarantine for 10 days after returning, according to California safety guidelines.

Sydney Johnson

Tuesday, March 9, 2021, 11:02am

Link copied.Gov. Gavin Newsom to deliver ‘State of the State’ address tonight

Gov. Gavin Newsom will deliver his third State of the State Address at 6 p.m. tonight, following a weeks-long tour of vaccination sites, public schools and small businesses around the state.

Though the governor’s speech is an annual occasion, political pundits say the stakes are higher than ever this week, since recall campaign organizers are submitting the final signatures needed to hold an election on whether to remove him from office.

Los Angeles Times Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers said Monday that it’s unlikely Newsom will address the recall campaign in the speech — he has refused to answer questions about the effort at press conferences in recent weeks — but that “the event may nonetheless feel like the kickoff of the campaign to keep his job.”

Though Newsom hasn’t previewed what he plans to talk about tonight, school reopening will likely be a main topic, since he and legislature came to an agreement last week over a $6.6 billion plan to phase in in-person instruction as early as April 1.

The State of the State address will be broadcast from Dodger Stadium at 6 p.m. and live-streamed on the governor’s Twitter, Facebook and YouTube pages.

Ali Tadayon

Monday, March 8, 2021, 6:01pm

Link copied.Oakland nonprofit, school district awarded $900,000 to keep growing ‘City-Wide Virtual Hub’

The parent empowerment organization Oakland REACH and Oakland Unified are one of six partnerships nationwide that will receive funding to continue developing one of the pandemic’s hopeful innovations: community learning hubs.

The $900,000 grant from the Center on Reinventing Public Education and TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project) will enable Oakland REACH and the district to hire 30 literacy tutors and liaisons to continue distance learning, tutoring, student enrichment programs and family services in a half-dozen schools through the summer.

Oakland REACH created its City-Wide Virtual Hub in spring 2020 when learning hubs or pods were synonymous with groups of wealthy families hiring private tutors in their homes. The community hub that co-founder and CEO Lakisha Young organized initially provided virtual summer school for 200 low-income Oakland students, as well as afternoon enrichment activities, a K-2 literacy program, cash help for struggling parents and a family empowerment center to help parents with technology and other needs.

Last fall it doubled to serve 400 students with family liaisons helping students with distance learning through the district during the morning, supplemented by services and activities provided by more a dozen community partners, including UC Berkeley, in the afternoon. This summer, the program could serve 1,000 children, Young said.

The shape of the community learning hub will continue to evolve this fall, when Young expects many low-income families of color in Oakland will not be sending their children back for in-person instruction. Families will dictate what form it takes, she said.

Along with the Oakland Partnership, others receiving funding are Central Falls School District in Rhode Island, the DeKalb County School District in Georgia, Edgecombe County Public Schools in North Carolina, Guilford County Public Schools in North Carolina and Indianapolis Public Schools.

“These districts and their community partners are thinking beyond the immediate crisis. They are learning from families and community groups to create new and better systems for supporting students,” said TNTP CEO Dan Weisberg and Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

John Fensterwald

Monday, March 8, 2021, 3:07pm

Link copied.Bill would require gender-neutral toys sections in all California department stores

Target’s policy could become state law, if Assembly members Evan Low, D-Campbell, and Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, can persuade other lawmakers to pass their legislation requiring large stores to adopt a gender-neutral approach to selling kids’ toys.

Gone will be the day that boys had to wander into the girls’ toy section to search for cake baking kits, and girls were made to feel that rocket launchers were for boys only. Low, who chairs the California Legislative LGBT Caucus, said a staffer’s 9-year-old daughter prompted him to author the bill after she asked why she had to go to the boys’ area to find science toys. Low then discovered that Target had already adopted a gender-neutral approach in 2015.

“As much as I’d like to think of this as watershed legislation, this is something the industry is already doing. We’re just trying to play catch up,” he told the Sacramento Bee.

Assembly Bill 1084 would require retail department stores with over 500 employees that sells toys to sell them in one area undivided by gender. California department stores with web sites would have to advertise toys as selling “kids”, “unisex” or “gender neutral” toys.

John Fensterwald

Monday, March 8, 2021, 2:59pm

Link copied.More than 200,000 California educators vaccinated since March 1

More than 200,000 California educators have been vaccinated for Covid-19 since the state began allocating 10% of its vaccine supply for education workers March 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday.

Last week, the state began reserving 75,000 doses a week for education workers to ensure that at least that many received the vaccine. But as districts throughout the state announced plans to reopen schools by April, far more than 75,000 educators flocked to vaccination sites to receive their first and second doses. Counties have provided vaccines to all education workers, agriculture workers and healthcare workers depending on supply in the current phase of California’s vaccine rollout plan.

“This is welcome news for teachers, students and parents as more and more schools reopen safely across the state,” Newsom said in a news release. “We will continue working with our local partners to accelerate this effort in communities across the state so that all school staff have access to a vaccine within weeks.”

As of Monday, more than one in 10 Californians 16 and older were fully vaccinated, and more than one in four people ages 65 and older were fully vaccinated.

Ali Tadayon

Monday, March 8, 2021, 2:04pm

Link copied.LA middle and high schools aim to reopen for in-person classes in late April

Los Angeles Unified has proposed to reopen middle and high school campuses by the end of April, according to a Monday morning update from Superintendent Austin Beutner. Preschools and elementary schools have a tentative reopening in mid-April.

Negotiations with the district’s teachers’ union, United Teachers of Los Angeles, are ongoing and an agreement is expected to be announced this week. The district, however, will “continue to move forward on plans to reopen schools as there is a great deal to do to get ready,” Beutner said.

Vaccinations for school staff have remained a foundational step in the district’s reopening plan.

“While other cities in California, like Long Beach, got a head start when local health authorities there started with vaccinations for school staff back in January, we’re working as hard as we can to make up for lost time since vaccinations were first made available for Los Angeles Unified staff just a week ago,” Beutner said.

LA Unified school staff had access to vaccines last week at three locations, schools turned into vaccination sites, in addition to Hollywood Park. Another three schools will open today as vaccinations sites to help vaccinate the district’s 86,000 employees.

So far, more than 35,000 Los Angeles Unified staff have been vaccinated with their first dose, made an appointment for their first dose, or indicated they will not be receiving the vaccine at this time. About 10% of employees have indicated they will not be signing up for the vaccine at this time, Beutner said.

Betty Márquez Rosales

Friday, March 5, 2021, 4:59pm

Link copied.Newsom signs $6.6 billion schools plan with $2 billion incentive to reopen

One day after the Legislature’s near-unanimous passage, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed a $6.6 billion plan to help schools address Covid-19’s harm on students during a virtual ceremony with legislative leaders who negotiated the deal over two months.

The package includes $2 billion of incentive grants for districts that open up their schools to K-2 grades and to cohorts of underserved students in all grades by April, including homeless students and students without internet access, with additional grades in weeks to come. (Go here for Quick Guide: California’s plan for getting more kids back to school)

“This package of funding and supports for our schools recognizes that in-person education is essential to meet not only the learning needs, but the mental health and social-emotional needs of our kids — especially the youngest and the most vulnerable,” Newsom said.

Parent groups that wanted Newsom to order schools to reopen criticized the new law, as did many Republican legislators who ended up voting for it. “It just doesn’t go far enough. My fear is that we’re not going to see kids going back to any type of real, valuable in-person instruction until next year,” said Republican state Sen. Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore.

Democratic legislators acknowledged that the offer of extra funding — anywhere from $450 to about $750 per student — may not work to resolve protracted negotiations in districts, including Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles, where teachers are demanding conditions and safety protections beyond those required in the law.

But they also said that Newsom’s commitment to sharply increase vaccinations of teachers and to remove obstacles to reopening in previous versions of the plan, such as mandatory Covid testing of all returning students and staff, should help expedite reopening in many districts.

The bill’s purpose is “to spur districts to do more. This is a positive bill. This is going to help,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, who was involved in the negotiations.

John Fensterwald

Friday, March 5, 2021, 3:56pm

Link copied.New California bill would ban suspensions and expulsions in preschool

Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, has introduced legislation, Assembly Bill 1361, to prohibit suspension and expulsion in state-subsidized preschool and childcare programs and to provide educators with access to mental health consultations. In keeping with the Governor’s Master Plan, this bill addresses what some early childhood advocates refer to as the “preschool-to-prison pipeline.” 

Children in preschool are at an age when struggling to regulate their emotions is a developmentally appropriate part of growing up. And yet preschoolers are expelled at rates three times higher than children in the K-12 system, according to a report from the Children’s Equity Project, a research organization at Arizona State University. To make matters worse, experts say this harsh punishment in early education disproportionately impacts children of color.

The key is that severe discipline at such early ages can have lasting consequences. Research suggests that children who are suspended in preschool are more likely to drop out of high school and become incarcerated, according to the Center for American Progress, a public policy research and advocacy organization.

“As a former teacher myself, I believe we need to ensure all our children are given a fair opportunity to succeed in their earliest school years,” Rubio said in a statement. “This bill helps address structural inequities in our early childhood education system by not only prohibiting suspensions and expulsions, but also by providing needed support to staff. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the administration on advancing this crucial piece of legislation for our children.”


Karen D'Souza

Friday, March 5, 2021, 1:49pm

Link copied.A quarter of veteran teachers surveyed consider quitting the profession

A quarter of veteran teachers are having doubts about continuing in the profession or are considering a career change because of their experiences during the pandemic. But 70% do plan to continue teaching, according to the latest installment in a comprehensive teacher survey by the Inverness Institute. EdSource is partnering in presenting the Teacher Survey Project.

While not necessarily representative of all teachers, the 121 participants, chosen from networks of teachers involved in leadership and curriculum networks, do reflect the gender, geography and demographics of California’s teacher workforce.

The survey was taken in late January, amid the Covid-19 surge. Asked to choose from among seven options, 12% said they’d return to school short-term but would consider other options; 5% said they would consider quitting or retiring; and 8% were split among leaving the profession ASAP, leaving if they’d have to return to the classroom during the pandemic, and not returning to the classroom once schools reopen.

“The teaching profession could be at risk of losing a number of teachers. While many teachers will continue to teach, some would like to change schools or districts. Others want to leave the classroom or move away from education completely,” the researchers concluded.

Among the comments from teachers, who were assured anonymity to encourage candor:

  • “I do not think I will leave the profession … but am strongly considering working in another educational role and not working in my current district.”
  • “I have thought about quitting, which is something I never thought I would think about. But I am staying committed even though this year is unbelievably difficult.”
  • “I plan on a career change if I don’t go back to the classroom.”

Go here to read more about the project and previous findings and here and here to read the latest reports.

John Fensterwald

Friday, March 5, 2021, 9:38am

Link copied.West Contra Costa Unified to negotiate reopening schools with labor unions

West Contra Costa Unified intends to return to the bargaining table with its teacher and employee unions to reopen schools, Superintendent Matthew Duffy said in a brief announcement at a school board meeting Thursday.

The statement followed three hours of closed-session discussion among school board members. In accordance with state public meeting laws, Duffy announced the action taken during closed session, saying school board members unanimously gave “direction to staff regarding negotiations to reopen schools.”

Though West Contra Costa Unified officials would not elaborate, United Teachers of Richmond president Marissa Glidden clarified that the board’s decision was to negotiate a return to in-person instruction in the spring. Glidden said teachers are “eager for a safe return to school buildings” and that the union seeks to create a plan in which teachers may volunteer to work in person, and high needs students are prioritized.

“We know that educators are working tirelessly to serve their students and any plan must not significantly reduce the quality or amount of instruction that students who remain in distance learning will receive,” Glidden said.

A group of parents that had been for months pressuring the district to reopen celebrated the announcement. They had criticized the district’s distance learning contract with its unions — which was agreed upon in the fall of 2020 — for being too stringent to allow for in-person instruction this school year. The contract called for a return to in-person instruction only when three conditions were met: all zip codes within the district were in the orange or “moderate” tier on the state’s reopening tier system for 21 consecutive days; the case rates in surrounding counties of Alameda and Solano counties dropped below 10 per 100,000 population; and the positivity rate dropped below 3%. Contra Costa County remained in the purple or “widespread” tier as of March 5.

School board members Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy and Mister Phillips said they were in favor of moving toward reopening before the end of the school year. Gonzalez-Hoy said he would want the district to start by only bringing students back in small cohorts, with teachers returning to the classroom on a voluntary basis. Phillips said he would like the district to offer in-person instruction by April 1 to preschool through sixth grade, and for the district to bring back as many middle school and high school students as conditions allow.

Ali Tadayon

Thursday, March 4, 2021, 5:25pm

Link copied.New California license plate would support mental health services in schools

A new, specialized license plate would provide millions of dollars in extra funding for mental health programs in California public schools, under a bill recently introduced in the state Senate.

Senate bill 21, introduced by Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, would require the California Department of Education to apply for the specialized license plate through the Department of Motor Vehicles. Motorists could select the new license plate when they renew their vehicle registration, with fees going toward the Department of Education for student mental health programs such as wellness centers.

Proceeds from the license plate, which was designed by a high school student in San Ramon, would support mental health services in California public schools. The campaign was inspired in part by the death of Colin Wiseman, a Contra Costa County 15-year-old who committed suicide in 2013.

The Department of Motor Vehicles estimates the license plate would generate between $4 million and $10 million a year.

“There is a definite lack of preventative mental health programs available for our students in California. The lack of adequate funding continues to create a barrier to care especially for those in underserved communities,” said Gail Miller, president of BeingwellCA, a nonprofit that advocates for improved mental health services for children in California. “Our goal with the license plate is to help fund much needed Wellness Centers on each high school campus in California.”

California has one of the highest student-to-counselor ratios in the country, according to the American School Counselor Association. In 2018-19, there were 612 students for every counselor in K-12 public schools. The association recommends a ratio of 250:1. Funds from the license plate sales would pay for more counselors as well as other mental health services.

Carolyn Jones

Thursday, March 4, 2021, 11:40am

Link copied.California to lower threshold for ‘red’ reopening tier

California will make it easier for counties to move out of the most restrictive “purple” tier on the state’s reopening tier system by lowering the threshold to the second most-restrictive “red” tier.

The new standard relaxes the adjusted case rate to 10 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people from seven new cases per 100,000 people.

The change will go into effect once the state is able to administer at least 2 million doses to the lowest income zip codes according to the state’s Healthy Places Index, state public health officials announced at a news conference Thursday. As of this week, 1.6 million doses had been administered in those zip codes. California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly said he expects to hit 2 million doses within the coming weeks.

Only 16 counties were in the red, or “substantial” tier the week of March 1; the majority of the state remained in the purple tier, with only two counties in the orange “moderate” tier.

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.

Under the agreement struck by Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislature this week, districts must then reopen all elementary grades and at least one grade in middle school or high school once Covid infection levels in their county decline to the red tier in order to receive extra funding for reopening.

Ali Tadayon

Wednesday, March 3, 2021, 5:46pm

Link copied.Medi-Cal to cover Covid testing costs of California’s low-income children

California on Wednesday became the first state to win approval for federal funding to cover the costs of Covid-19 testing for low-income children. The ability to seek reimbursement through Medi-Cal will defray the state’s costs of the tests performed by the state-run lab in Valencia and school districts’ testing expenses through vendors other than the state lab.

The press release from Gov. Gavin Newsom didn’t estimate the savings, but it should be substantial, since Medi-Cal provided health coverage for 50% to 55% of school-age children in California. Newsom’s staff has been working on the application for funding since December.

The timing is good. On Thursday, the Legislature is set to approve a return-to-school plan that Newsom, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, and Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, reached earlier this week. It requires school districts to offer in-person instruction to children in kindergarten to second grade by April 1 to receive a share of $2 billion in state funding for reopening costs. Districts must open up other elementary grades and at least one grade in middle and high schools when Covid infection rates fall to the “red tier,” the second-highest of a four-level state system. Asymptomatic testing of students and staff is not required, but employee unions in some districts have negotiated for extensive testing as an element of their Covid safety plans.

The state is covering the costs for tests of Medi-Cal students through the Valencia lab without billing districts. The current charge for the test is $21; the price has dropped by nearly two-thirds over the past two months, as the lab has expanded its capacity.

The Biden Administration made testing reimbursement retroactive to Feb. 1, which will benefit districts that have already opened and those, like Los Angeles Unified, that have been testing students in advance of reopening. Medi-Cal coverage will continue for 60 days after the end of the federal public health emergency.

John Fensterwald

Wednesday, March 3, 2021, 1:14pm

Link copied.New California bill would require employers to pay for backup child care

California became the first state in the nation to offer parents Paid Family Leave in 2014. Now, Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, has introduced legislation that would require large California-based companies to provide up to 60 hours of subsidized backup care to parents with children under 14. The bill comes at a time when many women are dropping out of the workforce to care for their children during the pandemic.

“Covid-19 has impacted women, and specifically women of color, at disproportionate rates,” Carrillo told CNBC reported. “Now, more than ever, is the time to re-imagine and rebuild systems that work for women and that work for families.”

If the bill passes, the proposed subsidized care mandate would go into effect Jan. 1, 2022. The bill, which would only apply to companies with more than 1,000 employees, would be the first of its kind in the country, as Bloomberg noted.

Some early childhood advocates have questioned the practicality of the bill given the scarcity of child care slots in the state and the overall complexity of navigating the system, but others laud the attempt to make child care more accessible for working families.

“Treating back up child care as a workplace support for parents and for employers makes economic sense all around,” said Lea Austin, executive director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at the UC Berkeley. “Such a provision goes hand-in-hand with access to paid time off and sick leave — working parents need options to support both their ability to be at work and also to take time when needed to care for their own children.”

Karen D'Souza

Tuesday, March 2, 2021, 5:04pm

Link copied.California universities graduating more Latinos, but equity gaps persist

California colleges and universities need to close equity gaps between white and Latino students if they are to increase degree attainment among the latter group, according to a briefing released Tuesday from Excelencia in Education, a national organization that advocates for Latino student success in college.

The report found that the state’s public, four-year universities enroll and graduate more Latino students than the national average — 57% in California and 51% nationally. But statewide, only 20% of Latino adults have an associate degree compared to 54% of white non-Hispanic adults. Within California, Latinos graduate at a lower rate than their white peers, 57% and 67%, respectively, according to the report.

Excelencia recommends that state policies adjust to meet Latino students’ needs and expand opportunities for them to get college degrees.

“We cannot just be satisfied with being Hispanic-serving institutions,” California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said, during an Excelencia webinar about the brief. “We have to strive to be Hispanic-graduating institutions.”

California has the highest number of federally-designated Hispanic-Serving Institutions, at 176 public and private colleges and universities. Institutions with at least 25% undergraduates who identify as Hispanic can apply for the federal designation, which allows for more federal grants and aid.

Ashley A. Smith

Tuesday, March 2, 2021, 3:35pm

Link copied.Seven counties moved from purple to red tier

Seven counties were moved out of the most restrictive level on the state’s reopening tier system on Tuesday amid a weeks-long drop in the number of new Covid-19 cases.

San Francisco, Lassen, Plumas, Santa Clara, El Dorado, Napa and Modoc counties moved from the purple, or “widespread” tier to the red, or “substantial” tier, bringing the total number of “red” counties to 16. Two counties — Sierra and Alpine — remained in the orange, or “moderate” tier as of Tuesday.

The majority of the state — 40 of 58 counties — remained in the purple tier Tuesday. Those 40 counties include 785 public school districts and 1,136 charters serving a total of 5,446,535 students — 89.70% of the state’s total enrollment.

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 2, 2021, 9:12am

Link copied.LA Unified teachers’ union opposes Gov. Newsom reopening plan

The president of United Teachers of Los Angeles, the union representing over 30,000 Los Angeles Unified teachers, called a new state school reopening plan a reversal “to deeply flawed ideas” and “a recipe for propagating structural racism” during a live broadcast on Monday evening.

The new plan, announced Monday morning by Gov. Gavin Newsom, sets an April 1 deadline for schools to reopen for K-2 students, plus $2 billion in incentives.

“If you condition funding on the reopening of schools, that money will only go to white and wealthier schools that do not have the transmission rates that low-income Black and Brown communities do,” UTLA president Cecily Myart-Cruz said during the live broadcast. “This is a recipe for propagating structural racism, and it is deeply unfair to the students we serve.”

The union has not yet reached a reopening agreement with Los Angeles Unified. During the Monday broadcast, Myart-Cruz reiterated the union’s position before broadly reopening campuses: LA County must be out of the most restrictive purple tier; staff required to return to work in person must be fully vaccinated; and safety plans must be in place. LA Unified Supt. Austin Beutner has made it clear that vaccinating teachers is a must before students return.

Union members are voting this week on whether they want to return to in-person instruction. The survey, which closes on Friday.

The results to the survey will be announced by UTLA on Friday night.

Betty Márquez Rosales

Monday, March 1, 2021, 5:22pm

Link copied.It’s official: Miguel Cardona is confirmed as U.S. secretary of education

The Senate on Monday confirmed Miguel Cardona to serve as the U.S. secretary of education. The former Connecticut schools chief passed swiftly through the vote, which went 64-33 for confirming Cardona, including 14 Republicans who voted in support of his nomination.

“Dr. Cardona has committed to following the science, and has agreed to prioritize bringing students back to the classroom quickly and safely,” Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the top Republican on the Senate education committee, said in a prepared statement. “Dr. Cardona brings with him the background, qualifications and temperament needed to serve in this position at a very challenging time.”

Cardona was born of Puerto Rican parents and previously worked as a public school teacher, principal and administrator before making the leap to become Connecticut’s education commissioner in 2019. He will be officially sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday.

Cardona’s first major assignment as education secretary is getting the nation’s students back into schools safely after President Joe Biden made getting the majority of K-12 students back into physical classrooms a campaign priority.

“We were open and transparent with what we knew, and we made sure that we partnered with our health experts to put out very clear guidance early on to make sure that the mitigation strategies were very clear,” Cardona said during his confirmation hearing in early February. “I look forward to, if I’m fortunate enough to serve as secretary of education, to bring that same mentality of partnership and clear communication to help recover our public education and reopen our schools.”

Sydney Johnson

Monday, March 1, 2021, 2:05pm

Link copied.New bills would require full federal funding of special education

Advocates for disabled students are optimistic about a pair of bills in Congress that would require the federal government to fully fund special education for the first time ever.

The Keep Our Pact Act, introduced separately in the House and Senate, would boost federal spending on special education to cover 40% of states’ and districts’ costs, as required by the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. The federal government hasn’t met that goal since the act passed in the mid-1970s, and last year covered only abut 14% of the cost. States and school districts made up the difference.

Introduced by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., the Keep Our Pact Act would also increase funding for Title I programs, which serve students from low-income families.

Schools could use the extra special education money to hire more teachers, aides and therapists; improve training for both general and special education teachers; buy more technical equipment, such as voice-activated tablets; decrease class sizes; and raise salaries for special education staff, among other things.

“It’s a big deal,” said Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director for the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools. “The hope is that more money, coupled with accountability and data collection, will lead to better outcomes and help close the achievement gap.”

In California, students in special education represent roughly 13% of the state’s overall K-12 enrollment, yet they have significantly worse outcomes than their peers in general education even though the vast majority have no intellectual or cognitive disability. Students in special education had a 5-year graduation rate of 72.5% in 2019-20 — compared to 87% overall — and only 16.5% met the entrance requirements for California State University or University of California.

President Joe Biden, a longtime advocate for children with special needs, in June promised to fully fund special education if elected. He’s expected to release his 2021-22 budget in the next few weeks, which will include his spending priorities and signal whether special education is among them.

Carolyn Jones

Monday, March 1, 2021, 9:44am

Link copied.Los Angeles Unified to receive all vaccines needed to reopen elementary campuses

Within the next two weeks, vaccines will be available for all Los Angeles Unified staff who currently work at school sites, plus those who work at preschools and elementary schools.

“The Governor has dedicated access for 25,000 additional vaccine doses for school staff in Los Angeles Unified over the next two weeks,” said Supt. Austin Beutner in his weekly Monday morning remarks. “This plan will allow us to complete during the next two weeks vaccinations for school staff who are already working at school sites, staff who are working with our youngest learners and those working with students with learning differences and disabilities.”

Access to these vaccines will go a long way in helping the district reopen elementary schools for in-person instruction by its target date April 9. It remains unclear, however, if inoculated teachers and staff must wait for maximum immunity.

Negotiations with the district’s teacher union also play a crucial role in whether LA school reopen. Talks are scheduled for this week.

Meanwhile, a select group of LA Unified students, including students with disabilities and English learners, will return to campuses this week for small-group and one-on-one instruction in person for the first time since December.

Betty Márquez Rosales

Friday, February 26, 2021, 10:42am

Link copied.Youth under 16 can’t be tried as adults in court, California affirms

The California Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that 14- and 15-year-olds can no longer be tried as adults in court, which could result in a lifetime prison sentence, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The ruling came after a 2019 state law prohibiting youth younger than 16 from being tried as adults was challenged by prosecutors who argued that the law violated the 2016 Proposition 57, which allowed 14-year-olds to be charged as adults if a judge decided so based on the crime and the youth’s record.

Currently, the maximum confinement for juveniles is up to age 25. However, courts can place what’s called a “safety hold” after that threshold requiring placement in a medical center. The recent ruling makes California the first state to prohibit adult prosecutions of youths under 16, the Chronicle reports.

Tough sentences for youth disproportionately affect Black and Latino youth, according to the Sentencing Project, a group that works to reduce imprisonment.

“Now the state will focus on rehabilitating young people,” Elizabeth Calvin of Human Rights Watch told the Chronicle. “Youth who are sent to the adult system miss out on the treatment, education and services offered in the juvenile system. Youth kept in the juvenile system are less likely to commit new crimes.”

Sydney Johnson

Thursday, February 25, 2021, 4:22pm

Link copied.Juniors and seniors at Stanford University can live on campus this spring

Juniors and seniors at Stanford University will have the option to live on campus for the spring quarter, which begins in about one month.

There are already about 5,100 graduate students and 1,500 undergraduate students living on campus. Those students were approved to live on campus because of special circumstances. About 1,300 juniors and seniors have applied to live on campus during the spring quarter, which begins March 29. That number could go up.

In a letter to the campus community, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell said the university would begin “moving forward with offering juniors and seniors the opportunity to return to campus for the spring quarter, with systems and safeguards in place to protect our community’s health.”

Modeling by Stanford’s School of Medicine “suggests that the trajectory of COVID-19 this spring is likely to be manageable,” they added. “We believe our campus is prepared to respond effectively to positive cases that occur.”

Drell and Tessier-Lavigne said the “chances are low of needing to make a change in this plan before classes begin.” They acknowledged concerns that students may disregard public health protocols but said they expect that the “vast majority of Stanford students, and hopefully all, will engage in responsible behaviors.”

Michael Burke

Thursday, February 25, 2021, 4:09pm

Link copied.California parents send letter demanding governor reopen school campuses

Parents representing more than 100 districts in California sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday demanding that he reopen campuses immediately.

“Our kids have been out of school for 349 days. We are rapidly approaching the one year mark of public school closures. It is time for action, not further negotiation,” wrote Megan Bacigalupi, a parent in Oakland Unified who’s president of the Open Schools California parent group.

“If you cannot reach agreement with the Legislature to reopen schools immediately, we demand action through whatever means necessary to ensure no child is left behind,” she wrote.

The group cites students’ declining physical and mental health, as well as academic losses, over the year since campuses closed. It also highlights the inequitable impact of campus closures on students based on race and socioeconomic factors.

Newsom should heed the guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics on how to safely reopen schools, the group said.

The group represents parents from most of California’s largest districts, including Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified, as well as smaller districts such as Mount Shasta Union in Siskiyou County and Pajaro Valley Unified in Watsonville.

Carolyn Jones

Thursday, February 25, 2021, 4:07pm

Link copied.Districts to decide who gets teacher-designated Covid vaccines; in-person workers prioritized

School districts, charters and private schools will ultimately decide who will get the teacher-designated Covid-19 vaccines, as long as teachers who are working in-person are prioritized.

That’s according to guidance issued Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office, which outlines how thousands of vaccines designated for teachers will be distributed. Newsom announced Feb. 19 that 10% of the state’s allotted Covid-19 vaccine supply — about 75,000 doses a week — will be reserved for teachers and other education professionals as part of an effort to reopen schools.

Starting March 1, education workers throughout the state will receive up to 75,000 single-use codes a week, which they could use to set up appointments on The codes will be allocated to communities based on two factors: the number of education workers in the community and the extent to which those workers serve children who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, according to the guidance.

Education workers will qualify for an “expedited appointment” if they are currently working in person or will be in the next 21 days. The state is granting “flexibility” on the 21-day window, however, based on available supply in order to speed up the distribution.

The state will calculate how many codes will be given to each county office of education based on “student equity” — measured by its share of low-income students, English learners and foster youth — and K-12 staff size. The county office of education will then distribute the codes to school districts, charter schools and private schools which will distribute them to their staff.

Ali Tadayon

Wednesday, February 24, 2021, 6:16pm

Link copied.Los Angeles County unveils plan for prioritizing vaccine distribution to school employees

In an effort to make sure vaccine doses are equitably distributed to school employees in Los Angeles, county officials plan to give public school districts 91% of doses that are available to educators each week.

Los Angeles County public health and education officials on Wednesday announced the distribution plan, which also includes a formula for prioritizing how many vaccines each district will get, by taking into account Covid-19 case rates, the percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and whether in-person classes, distance learning or small group instruction are being offered.

For details of the plan, go here. 

So far in Los Angeles, vaccines have been unequally distributed, with higher percentages of white and Asian American residents receiving doses than Native American, Black and Latino residents.

School staff members throughout the county will be eligible for vaccinations March 1. At that point, a percentage of the county’s vaccine doses will be set aside for those employees each week. With 91% of doses going to public school districts, the remaining 9% will go to private schools. That reflects the estimated amount of students who attend those schools, according to the county.

“My priority is to ensure that resources are directed through an equity lens to support student and staff safety on campus so that we can focus on recovering from the academic and social-emotional challenges created by COVID-19,” Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo said in a statement. “Working with our Public Health partners, I believe we have come up with a vaccine distribution plan that supports all our districts as they work with their labor partners to safely reopen campuses.”

Michael Burke

Wednesday, February 24, 2021, 4:38pm

Link copied.San Diego Unified sets target reopening date for all grades

California’s second largest school district, San Diego Unified, is planning to resume in-person classes for all grade levels on April 12.

The district’s plan is contingent on Covid-19 cases and infection rates continuing decline, as well as on all teachers having access to vaccines.

In-person teaching will resume in a hybrid manner, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. Students will attend school in person part of the day or part of the week and attend classes via distance learning the rest of the time.

Families wishing for their students to continue with only distance learning also will have that option.

“Our plan to reopen classrooms in April is the result of groundbreaking collaboration between our city, our county and our professional educators,” Richard Barrera, president of the district’s school board, said in a statement. “From the start of this crisis, we have remained committed to reopening when it was safe and responsible to do so.”

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Unified is targeting April 9 as a possible reopening date for elementary schools across that district, which is by far the largest in the state. However, that reopening date is also contingent on vaccine distribution to teachers and other school staff. Superintendent Austin Beutner described April 9 as an estimated reopening date, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Michael Burke