Newsom unveils plan for California schools to reopen in February

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Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced a $2 billion plan to push California’s schools to begin allowing their youngest students to return to the classroom in February. 

"As a parent of very young children, in person-instruction — there's just no substitute for it. It's so much more difficult for a 4-year-old to focus on a device than a 14-year-old," Newsom said.

Though a few districts opened when coronavirus cases were lower in early fall, most of California’s 6 million public school students have been learning remotely since the pandemic began last March. 

Newsom already has dubbed teachers and school staff next in line to receive a coronavirus vaccination, behind health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. 

Under Newsom’s plan, schools that reopen would receive an average of $450 per student, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

The governor’s $2 billion budget proposal would channel money into Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), testing and other safety measures, with a focus on kindergarten through second grade.

Priority also will be given to special needs students, those in foster care and those who are homeless, along with schools with many low-income students or English learners. 

Parents still have the option to keep children in remote learning if their schools reopen. 

The state also will launch a public database of transmission in schools, after Californians complained that the state has provided little information on school reopenings or infection rates among students.

The plan is expected to be submitted to the state Legislature as an amendment to the proposed budget. 

California faces all-time highs in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Facilities in Southern California are running out of bed space and healthcare leadership is beginning to discuss the possibility of having to ration care.

But as public health officials assure that schools pose a relatively low level of transmission, Newsom said his new plan would kick in when counties reduce their cases to below 28 per 100,000 residents, four times the rate California previously allowed schools to reopen without waivers. The state’s current average is 93 new cases per 100,000 residents.

Californians assailed Newsom for not doing enough to push for schools to reopen, particularly after the governor acknowledged that his four children, ages 4 to 11, were returning to the classroom in a hybrid format in their private school.

Meanwhile, Republicans continue to gather signatures to recall the governor and earned a $600,000 boost to aid their efforts earlier this week. According to a filing released Tuesday, Irvine-based consulting firm Prov 3:9, LLC  donated $500,000 to the recall efforts while Douglas Leone, managing partner of the Menlo Park based-venture captial firm Sequoia Capital, and his wife Patricia Perkins-Leone donated a combined $100,000. 

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Implementation of the plan could face hurdles with teachers’ unions and their collective bargaining agreements. State lawmakers earlier this month introduced legislation that would force schools in California counties to open once they moved from the most-restrictive "purple" tier to the "red" tier. Current policy makes it optional for schools to reopen in less restrictive tiers. 

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