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California schools in counties on COVID-19 watchlist must stay closed, Newsom says

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that public and private schools in California counties on the state’s coronavirus watchlist won’t be allowed to hold in-class instruction and have to meet strict criteria in order to reopen.
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Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that public and private schools in California counties on the state’s coronavirus watchlist won’t be allowed to hold in-class instruction and have to meet strict criteria in order to reopen.

A county has to be off the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list for 14 consecutive days before schools there can reopen for in-person learning. Under the new mandate, it’s unlikely that many California districts will be able to have classroom instruction at the start of the school year.

| MORE | Click here to read the full school guidance from the state

Several school districts had already said their schools will start virtually in the fall. As of Friday afternoon, more than 30 counties were on the state’s watchlist.

“Our students, our teachers, staff, and certainly, parents — we all prefer in-classroom instructions for all the obvious reasons,” Newsom said. “But only, only if it can be done safely.”

For schools that are able to reopen, students from third through 12th grade and all staff have to wear masks in school. For students who are younger, face masks or shields are strongly encouraged.

Physical distancing will also be key, Newsom said. Staff must maintain 6 feet of distance between each other and students. Other safety procedures include symptom and temperature checks, hand-washing stations and quarantine protocols if someone is sick.

At school, there will be regular testing and contact tracing, and staff will be tested in cohorts on a rotating basis. The state’s 10,000 contact tracers trained at UCLA and UC San Francisco will also prioritize schools, Newsom said.

Districts are fine-tuning additional resources for special needs students, including one-on-one or small group gatherings for interaction.

“A lot of the districts and county offices have been developing resources,” said State Board of Education President Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond. “Many of them targeted for students with special education needs, curriculum, and plans of how teachers will be able to do one-on-one as well as small group instruction.”

When in-person learning stops and switches to distance learning:

  • Classroom goes home when there is a confirmed case.
  • Schools close in-person learning when multiple cohorts have cases, or 5% of school is positive.
  • District goes home if 25% of its schools are closed within 14-day period.

Newsom said that districts that have to start the school year with distance learning must have the following:

  • Students should have daily live interaction with other students and teachers.
  • Instruction that is “challenging and equivalent to in-person classes.
  • Adapted lessons for special education students and English language learners.
  • All students should have access to devices.

“The recognition that over the last several months that we might have to start a virtual learning space has been something we’ve been preparing for,” explained Yolo County Superintendent of Schools Garth Lewis. “The news with regards to our status as a county on the state’s watch list requiring that we enter the school year in a virtual learning mode, that’s new to us. But the idea that this was a possibility is something that folks have been preparing for, for quite some time.”

Following the announcement, Davis Joint Unified School District– which is located in Yolo County– is recommending all schools open with 100 percent distance learning.

There has been intensifying concern from parents and teachers alike about California’s surge of cases in recent weeks. Many rural communities, meanwhile, have argued they shouldn’t have to comply with the same rules as big cities where infection rates are higher.

THREAD #SchoolReopening (PT.1): Gov. Newsom says schools can physically reopen when county off monitoring list for 14 consecutive days
Schools don’t meet this requirement begin w. #distancelearning
Currently 32 of 58 Calif. counties on monitoring list for 3+ days @kcranews https://t.co/23lgKqbLRN

— Vicki Gonzalez (@VickiGonzaleztv) July 17, 2020

California has a seven-day average of 8,838 new cases, Newsom said. The positivity rate has declined slightly in the past week. On average, California is conducting 124,000 COVID-19 tests a day.

— The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.

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