Opinion: How can working parents teach their kids at home this fall?

Joe W. Bowers Jr. — California Black Media | 7/30/2020, midnight

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently held a press briefing to announce his “Pandemic Plan for Learning and Safe Schools.” Although his plan offers clear guidance on when and how schools should reopen, it doesn’t answer some pressing questions.   

The governor’s plan incorporates the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) framework that establishes a baseline of standards for K-12 schools to reopen for in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year and under what circumstances schools would have to shut down and return to distance learning. Guidance for colleges and universities is still being finalized. 

Newsom’s plan for elementary and secondary education during the COVID-19 pandemic focuses on five key requirements: (1) safe in-person school based on local health data, (2) strong mask requirements for anyone in school, (3) physical distancing requirements and other adaptations, (4) regular testing and dedicated contact tracing for outbreaks at schools, and (5) rigorous distance learning. 

California schools closed for in-person instruction in mid-March as part of a broader set of CDPH recommendations intended to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Under Newsom’s plan public and private schools in California counties on the state’s coronavirus watch list must stay closed for in-person instruction until the county has remained off the list for 14 days.

Thirty-two counties— including Los Angeles, San Diego, Alameda, and Sacramento — are currently on the state’s monitoring list because of their COVID-19 transmission levels and hospitalization rates. Eighty to 90 percent of the state’s students live in these counties and if the status of their county doesn’t change will have to start the school year distance learning.

Newsom said, “Learning is non-negotiable. The virus will be with us for a year or more and school districts must provide meaningful instruction in the midst of this pandemic.”

With his announcement coming just weeks before many of the state’s 1,000 school districts were planning to resume with a hybrid of in-person instruction and distance learning, teachers and parents welcomed Newsom’s updated school opening guidelines because of their concerns about whether schools could open safely with the state experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases. 

California Teachers Association (CTA) President E. Toby Boyd said, “Today’s updated guidance from Governor Newsom through the California Department of Public Health is a good step in providing some clarity and uniformity across the state. We cannot reopen unless it is safe!” 

Newsom expects schools in counties on the coronavirus watch list to offer rigorous distance learning. “The word rigorous is foundational,” he said. “If we are going to have distance learning, and we will, to make sure that it’s real, that we address equity, we address the divide and its quality to rigorous distance learning.”

The education budget allocates $5.3 billion specifically to mitigate learning loss due to the shortcomings of distance learning and it sets requirements to ensure schools provide rigorous and grade-appropriate instruction. School districts are required to provide devices and internet connectivity; daily, live interaction with teachers and other students; class assignments that are challenging and equivalent to in-person instruction; and targeted support and interventions for English learners and special education students. 

During the press briefing Newsom said, “Students, staff, and parents, all prefer in-classroom instruction, but only if it can be done safely.”