California Officials Release School-Reopening Guidelines

Rachel Keenan, 9, takes a live class online at her home in San Francisco on March 19. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — With administrators studying ways to safely reopen schools this fall, California education officials on Monday recommended outdoor classes and masks for both students and teachers to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

In a comprehensive reopening blueprint, the California Department of Education suggests schools do things like intensify cleaning procedures and hand-washing, place desks six feet apart, stagger class times to prevent crammed hallways and serve meals outside.

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said the document isn’t a mandate, but a guide for the over 1,000 cash-strapped districts that are faced with the daunting task of making wholesale changes due to the pandemic.

“We know that guidance is only as good as its implementation, so think of this as the beginning of the conversation — not the end. We know that for many of us, this is the toughest challenge that we’ll ever face, perhaps in our lifetime,” Thurmond said in a virtual press conference.

Thurmond said the blueprint was crafted with guidance from state and federal health officials, along with input from school employees and parents. He anticipates schools will implement as many of the recommendations as possible and said the guidelines will be updated as needed.

To enable social distancing, state officials said schools should consider conducting classes outside when possible and hold recess in separate areas designated by class. In addition, schools should limit nonessential visitors and find ways to keep teachers with one group of students during the school day.

Monday’s guidelines come as the state’s nearly 10,000 K-12 schools are scrambling to renovate classrooms all while bracing for expected budget cuts and potential layoffs.

Predicting a record-high $54 billion deficit, California Governor Gavin Newsom is pushing a budget proposal that calls for major education cuts in lieu of more federal pandemic relief. Compared to Newsom’s robust January proposal, his latest version calls for a 19% reduction in funding for K-12 education.

Los Angeles and other urban districts like San Diego, Long Beach, Oakland and Sacramento have sent Newsom and lawmakers a joint letter stating the current budget proposal could prevent them from opening on time, let alone early as Newsom has suggested.

While Newsom and the Legislature continue budget negotiations, the governor told reporters last week the state was committed to providing schools with masks, thermometers and cleaning supplies needed for the 2020-21 school year. Thurmond applauded Newsom’s promise and said he would continue stressing the need for stable funding with the Legislature and Newsom’s advisers.

The Legislature must approve a budget bill by June 15 and Newsom has until July 1 to sign it.

The 55-page education document stresses the need for additional handwashing stations and for staff to teach students proper techniques. It says students should be reminded not to touch face coverings and that food service workers wear gloves and masks.

In addition, the department suggests temperature checks for anyone entering school facilities and isolation areas to place students showing symptoms of Covid-19 — such as fever, cough or headaches — until they can be picked up by parents. Schools should also designate liaisons to handle Covid-19 cases and conduct contact tracing.

Thurmond acknowledged the possibility of a second wave of the virus again forcing school closures but added the guidelines are intended to provide individual districts with flexibility.

“Our success on reopening schools, just like reopening parts of the state, relies on continual monitoring,” Thurmond said. “We’re taking the approach that as schools plan to reopen, that they should plan to open under the most safe conditions that we have information for.”

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