Governor Newsom Announces Order on How to Reopen Schools

Three female students and one male student sit at a table in an elementary school classroom and write on pieces of paper.
Three female students and one male student sit at a table in an elementary school classroom and write on pieces of paper.

During a press conference on July 17, 2020, Governor Newsom provided guidance on schools and school-based programs for the 2020–2021 school year, and announced an order outlining the requirements each county will have to meet before they can reopen campuses for in-person learning. The main requirement is that schools can only physically reopen if they have been off the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list for 14 consecutive days. This order will likely affect 32 of the state’s 52 counties, meaning most campuses will not be permitted to open at the start of the school year. The guidance does not prevent a school from adopting a distance-learning, hybrid, or mixed-delivery instructional model to ensure safety.

This guidance applies to: 

  • California public schools (traditional and charter schools)
  • Private schools (including nonpublic nonsectarian schools)
  • School districts 
  • County offices of education

Newsom shared one exception: “Local health officers may grant a waiver to allow elementary schools to reopen in-person instruction if the waiver is requested by the district superintendent, in consultation with labor, parents and community-based organizations. When considering a waiver request, the local health officer must consider local data and consult with the California Department of Public Health.”

Five elements of California schools' reopening plan: 

1. Local health data: Schools will use the aforementioned guidelines to base any reopening decisions on infection rates in their community.

2. Mask requirements: All staff and students in third grade and up MUST wear masks. For staff working with second grade students and below, face guards are encouraged, as Newsom stressed the importance of younger children being able to see facial expressions. Masks can be removed for meals, snacks, naptime, and outdoor activities. When a cloth face covering is temporarily removed, it should be placed in a clean paper bag marked with the student’s name and the date until it is to be put back on. Schools should supply masks for students who forget to bring one. 

3. Physical distancing (staff should stay “six feet from one another and six feet away from children,” while “students should maintain six feet of distance from one another as practicable”). 

4. Regular testing and contact tracing 

5. Rigorous distance learning: Schools need continuity and attendance plans. The budget provides $5.3 billion in additional funding to support learning and set requirements to ensure schools provide “rigorous and grade-appropriate instruction.” According to new state law, districts are required to provide the following: 

  • Devices and connectivity so that every child can participate in distance learning
  • Daily live interaction for every child with teachers and other students
  • Class assignments that are challenging and equivalent to in-person instruction
  • Targeted supports and interventions for English learners and special education students

Governor Newsom also outlined the criteria for how schools should close if there is a positive COVID test after they've already opened:

  • Schools must consult with a public health office
  • The classroom cohort goes home if there is a confirmed case
  • An entire school goes home if multiple cohorts have positive cases, or more than 5% of the school tests positive
  • An entire district closes if 25% of their schools are closed within a 14-day period

Read the highlights from Governor Newsom’s announcements regarding students with disabilities here

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