SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Offering a sobering update to families desperate for normalcy, California Governor Gavin Newsom said Wednesday schools won’t reopen this school year but will attempt to conduct classes for over 6 million students entirely online.
“Schools are closed, but classes are in,” Newsom said during a daily coronavirus briefing. “Just because the campus is closed, doesn’t mean we can’t accelerate learning in the state of California.”
With the help of Google and potentially other private companies, the plan is to temporarily swap classrooms for living rooms through free tablets and neighborhood wireless access points. To execute so-called distance learning within the state’s massive education system — which consists of over 1,000 separate districts and 10,500 schools — administrators are rushing to train teachers and find new ways to deliver student meals.
Due to overarching safety concerns, the transition is necessary to continue statewide social distancing efforts, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.
“Quite frankly, none of us knows when it’s safe enough to for our students to return to campus,” Thurmond said. “Out of an abundance of caution, we believe it is most important that all of our schools maximize their efforts around distance learning to help all of our students.”
Newsom says up to 160,000 neighborhood internet hotspots may be needed to facilitate the transition to digital learning and prodded other tech companies to partner with the state.
“Google stepped up in a big way,” Newsom said. “Those 100,000 points will help us substantially address the digital divide issues, the rural issues, the equity issues that are at play.”
The Silicon Valley giant’s offer to provide 100,000 internet hotspots for at least 90 days and thousands of Chromebooks is the latest example of the private sector pitching in to help the nation’s largest state fight the epidemic. A variety of businesses including Tesla, Facebook, Virgin Airlines and Bloom Energy have donated money, services and supplies to the state’s growing stockpile of medical equipment.
Though the federal government and health experts around the country have begun praising the preliminary results of California’s first-in-the-nation statewide shelter-in-place order, Newsom’s administration is still prepping for a patient surge it warns could potentially peak around the middle of next month and surpass the state’s hospital bed capacity.
Citing a tripling of hospitalizations (1,855) and quadrupling of intensive care unit patients (774) over the last week, Newsom said the state is still steadfastly collecting ventilators and building toward its goal of adding 50,000 hospital beds. As of the last update, California had 8,813 confirmed cases and 187 deaths.
Newsom’s education announcement falls short of an executive order but is intended to give clarity to school administrators and parents gripped by uncertainty over the last month. He expects to issue in the coming days a new executive order on child care relief for parents.
To make distance learning a reality, Sacramento City Unified School District says it has already ordered 20,000 Chromebooks and is hoping to officially begin classes by April 13.
“We commend our educators for their efforts to take on this new challenge,” said Superintendent Jorge Aguilar in a statement. “We know that time is of the essence and we want to ensure the SCUSD community that we are working round the clock to provide students with an equitable solution for learning during this unprecedented health crisis.”
As a father of four, the governor said he was appreciative of and aware of the stress the school closures have caused parents.
“My deep respect and admiration to all the mothers out there and all the parents that I know are going to have to do just a little bit more than even they’ve had to do,” Newsom said.
Meanwhile the virus continues to increase its grip over the southern part of the state, particularly in Los Angeles County.
In the last 48 hours, California’s most populous county seen over 1,000 new positive cases and by Wednesday afternoon reported an additional 11 deaths, bringing the total dead in the county to 65.
Among the 3,518 infected in LA County, five are homeless according to LA County Public Health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer. Health officials are investigating 43 assisted living facilities where 207 people – staff and residents – have become infected, while seven people are dead due to the outbreak at multiple institutions in LA County.
The county is also scrambling to provide for its Skid Row homeless population after a federal judge on Wednesday ordered the installation of 50 toilets and sanitation stations by next week.
Ruling in a lawsuit filed against both county and city officials earlier this month by the LA Alliance for Human Rights, a group made up of business owners, residents and formerly homeless residents, seeks oversight from the courts on coordinating homeless services, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter said it was clear no new facilities had been installed since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis.
“If left unchecked, it is likely that the coronavirus will both devastate the vulnerable homeless population and exacerbate the existing public health crisis more generally,” Carter said in his order.
An alarming hotspot has also developed east of LA in Yucaipa. According to San Bernardino County officials, 51 residents and six workers have been infected at the Cedar Mountain Post Acute Rehabilitation.