SACRAMENTO - Gov. Gavin Newsom laid out guidelines for the 2020/2021 school year during a new conference on Friday, July 17.
At the forefront of his framework: schools will likely need to transition back to distance learning if they are located in counties listed on the state's COVID-19 monitoring for 14 consecutive days.
“Learning is non-negotiable, but so is safety,” Newsom said. He stressed that the virus will be part of California's culture for at least a year and "school districts must provide meaningful instruction in the midst of this pandemic."
"In California, health data will determine when a school can be physically open – and when it must close – but learning should never stop," Newsom said. "Students, staff, and parents all prefer in-classroom instruction, but only if it can be done safely.”
Schools in counties that have not been on the list for the prior 14 days can begin or resume in-person instruction while following state and county public health guidelines.
There is an exception to that rule: Local public health officers can grant a waiver for elementary schools if requested by a school district superintendent, "in consultation with labor, parents and community-based organizations," according to a news release from Newsom's office.
When considering a waiver request, the local health officer must consider local data and consult with the California Department of Public Health.
Newsom's new framework also insists on strong mask requirements for anyone in the school. Students in third grade and above will be required to wear face coverings, while second grade and below are strongly encouraged to wear face masks or shields.
If students don't have masks, schools "should provide them."
Physical distancing will continue to be a requirement, with six feet between students and staff at all times "as practicable." Health and temperature screenings will be required of anyone entering school; those with a fever or other COVID-19 related symptoms must be sent home.
Newsom's mandate also recommends staff in every California school undergo a COVID-19 test on a periodically basis related to local disease trends "and as testing capacity allows."
Guidelines were also set up to help guide closures in case of a local outbreak. School districts would need to consult with a county public health officer first. After that, a classroom cohort would need to go home if one student or its teacher has a confirmed case.
An entire school goes home when multiple cohorts test positive or more than 5% of school tests positive. The district goes home if 25% of their schools are closed within a 14-day period.
Newsom said the state will provide resources and aid for COVID-19 investigations, with the state's contact tracing teams making schools a priority.
As the pandemic continues, the governor stressed at some point most schools will need to close again, like they did following Gov. Newsom's stay-at-home order in March. Around $5.3 billion of additional funding was allocated to support distance learning while setting requirements for schools to provide "rigorous" instruction.
The new law requires:
— Schools provide students devices and connectivity for every student
— Students get daily liver interaction with teachers and other classmates
_ Challenging assignments equivalent to in-person instruction
- Targeted support for special education and English-learning students
Kern County school districts are either deciding on how to start the new year or selected what route they will take.
Mojave Unified School District, which includes California City and Mojave, decided on June 23 to start the fall with a complete distance learning model and will be spending money on additional Chromebooks and developing a rigorous course for its elementary and secondary school students.
In Rosamond, Southern Kern Unified School District's board of trustees voted July 15 on a hybrid schedule, where students spend two days in class a week, two days on at-home assignments and study and a Friday distance learning day.
Muroc Unified School District's decision was not available as of Monday, July 20.