Newsom Floats Early Start to Next School Year to Counter Lost Learning

The 2020-21 school year could start as early as July, though the governor offered no assurances that barbershops and hair salons will be open for back-to-school haircuts.

California Governor Gavin Newsom during one of his daily coronavirus press briefings. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom said Tuesday the state is mulling ways to make up for lost time by reopening schools as early as July, even as the nation marks a grim milestone with 1 million known coronavirus cases.

A potential head start on the next school year will only happen if “adaptations and modifications” are made within the state’s extensive education system and child care facilities. Newsom said the continued stabilization of hospitalization rates has led to brainstorming and conversations with education leaders about how to make up for the pandemic-shortened school year.

“As a father of four, that learning loss is very real,” Newsom said, as California’s public schools have been closed since March. “From a socioeconomic frame, a racial justice frame, this is even more compounding and more challenging. It’s incumbent upon us to think anew.”

Tuesday’s pandemic briefing likely assuaged the anxieties of millions of California parents, but it didn’t contain great news for businesses and consumers clamoring to restart the economy.

The Democratic governor said that while he expects to modify the statewide shelter-in-place order in “weeks not months” and allow “lower-risk” businesses like retailers and manufacturers to open in a limited capacity, a full reopening remains months away. Newsom signaled beauty salons, movie theaters, shopping malls, weddings and church services will remain on the backburner indefinitely, barring a vaccine or major therapeutic developments. 

The Democratic governor is using a 6-point plan to guide the tiered reopening of the state’s $3 trillion economy, calling it a “pandemic roadmap.”

According to Newsom, California will reopen in four phases: the first and current stage entails improving testing/tracing and prepping hospitals for an additional surge. Stage two calls for the limited reopening of schools, retailers, business offices and public spaces. The final two stages cover so-called “high-risk workplaces” like gyms, salons, entertainment venues and concerts.

Newsom said the state is tracking progress on the six indicators and won’t act due to political pressure or actions taken elsewhere.

“Politics will not drive our decision making, protests won’t drive our decision making,” said the first-term governor. “Science, the data, public health will drive our decision making.” 

Taking a long view at what restrictions might still be in place come the presidential election in November, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to send a vote-by-mail ballot to all registered voters this fall.

The permanent policy, introduced by Supervisors Janice Hahn and Sheila Kuehl, means the county’s more than 5 million voters will receive a paper ballot to return by mail for all elections moving forward.

“We don’t know what challenges we will be facing in this pandemic this fall, but by sending every voter a mail-in ballot we can ensure that everyone can cast their ballot safely, no matter what the future holds,” Hahn said in a statement.  

Supervisors said the move will cost at least $9 million but won’t hamper county efforts to increase the number of polling locations or the extended 10-day voting calendar before election day.

The county is studying voting system improvements in the wake of the March 3 primary election chaos that saw high wait times and glitchy voting machines frustrate long lines of voters. 

LA County Registrar Dean Logan told supervisors Tuesday that California will likely adopt a similar mail-in ballot policy statewide by the fall. 

In a statement, LA County Democratic Party chair Mark Gonzalez praised the move.

“While Donald Trump and Republicans are doing everything they can to suppress the vote, our  LA County leaders along with [California Secretary of State Alex Padilla] are leading the way for what should become the future of voting in this country,” Gonzalez said. 

President Donald Trump has publicly bristled at the idea of voting by mail, claiming without evidence the process is “ripe for fraud.”

Governor Newsom’s update comes shortly after Johns Hopkins University announced more than a million Americans have tested positive for the coronavirus, along with over 57,000 deaths.  According to the university, the U.S. accounts for nearly a third of the world’s confirmed cases and the number is certain to grow as the virus has begun spreading in rural states like Nebraska, Tennessee and New Mexico.

California counties reported 54 more deaths Tuesday, bringing the state’s death toll to 1,809. The number of statewide hospitalizations (3,435) increased 2.5% while intensive care patients (1,181) dropped slightly overnight. Meanwhile, the state has now conducted nearly 600,000 Covid-19 tests at an average rate of 20,000 per day.

Newsom used his daily briefing to once again urge residents to remain vigilant while his administration plots its phased reopening. He also noted his economic task force led by former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer will be meeting with retailers to talk about reopening strategies this week.

“The virus has not gone away; its virulence is still as acute and its ability to be transmitted still is dominant. We by no stretch are out of the woods.”

Los Angeles County also crossed “a tragic milestone” Tuesday with public health officials reporting 1,000 people have died due to the virus.

As county officials begin making plans to ease stay-at-home restrictions, LA County saw one of the most severe periods since the global pandemic began, with 400 deaths in the last 10 days.

The death toll has been felt most sharply among staff and residents of skilled nursing homes, which now accounts for nearly half of all deaths in LA County according to public health officials.

“With over 400 deaths from Covid-19 occurring among nursing home residents, the pandemic has amplified the cracks in our society, including the care and protection of people who are older and medically fragile,” said Ferrer.

In total, 20,976 Angelenos are infected, 4,488 of them residents or staff at institutional settings where the virus has spread at alarming rates. Over 2,600 residents at homeless shelters, nursing homes, jails and assisted living facilities are infected along with 1,800 staff at those settings.

Despite the grim figures, Ferrer says she shares Newsom’s optimism about gradually reopening society. But that will depend on increasing testing capacity, isolating people who are symptomatic and not becoming complacent with the progress that has already been made.

“I feel optimistic, come the middle of May we too will be looking to relax our current orders,” said Ferrer.

As of Tuesday, 133,000 Angelenos had been tested for the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 according to public health officials.

A flurry of Covid-19 proposals awaits lawmakers in Sacramento once they reconvene next month, including a measure introduced Tuesday that would extend workers’ compensation to any essential employee who gets sick with the virus during the pandemic.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez says employees in health care, grocery, retail and other industries listed as essential under the governor’s emergency order deserve reassurance they will be taken care of if they get sick at work.

“Workers at essential jobs in our communities continue to put themselves at risk by engaging with co-workers and the general public,” said Gonzalez, D-San Diego. “We owe it to all of our essential workers, who are at a severely heightened risk of getting sick on the job, to ensure they will receive workers’ compensation if they do get sick with Covid-19.”

 Lawmakers have been holding emergency budget hearings, but normal floor sessions and committee hearings are expected to resume in Sacramento in May.

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