Newsom: California schools won't reopen 'if we wait for the perfect'

One classroom at Kent Middle School is empty during the coronavirus pandemic. | Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

SACRAMENTO – A frustrated governor, Gavin Newsom, said Thursday school administrators and teachers unions should agree to reopen schools for younger students as soon as possible – or make it clear to families that they will not be returning to classrooms at all this school year will.

Newsom was responding to growing demands that all teachers get vaccines first, but also to a long list of conditions beyond what the governor has suggested as safe to reopen schools that have been closed for nearly a year. The vast majority of California’s 6 million public school children have not been on campus since March.

“If we wait for the perfect, we might as well pack it up and be honest with the people we won’t be opening up for face-to-face lessons this school year,” Newsom said during an open discussion with the Association of California School Administrators were on YouTube but were later made inaccessible.

“You will find what you are looking for. If we want to find reasons not to open, we will find many reasons, ”added Newsom. “If we want to build on strategies to find ways to get where we all want to be, we’ll find that out too.”

On Wednesday, the California Teachers Association sent a letter to Newsom requesting teachers to be vaccinated before returning to K-12 sites. Newsom has made teachers a priority in its vaccination schedule, but it’s hard to predict when more than 300,000 K-12 educators may actually get the shot as the state grapples with widespread delivery and distribution problems.

The governor’s frustration seemed tied to that reality. Educational and child carers are eligible in the first stage of phase 1B, which the state has activated. But Newsom added residents over 65 to this tier two weeks ago, and counties and healthcare providers have so far given seniors priority over teachers, noting the greater health risk of the older population and an easier age verification process. State health officials have estimated that this is possible last until June just to reach Californians 65 and older.

The governor has proposed moving the youngest students to transition kindergarten until they return to second grade on February 16. So far, however, lawmakers, school administrators and teachers unions have opposed its reopening plan, which requires legislative approval, and that date seems almost impossible to get now.

When asked by ACSA Executive Director Wesley Smith on Thursday about union demands for vaccines, Newsom said elementary schools can be safely reopened without them, pointing out Research published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention This shows that schools that use social distancing masks and protocols have been low in virus transmission and outbreak.

Newsom reiterated that he had admitted teachers to the first tier but that counties could decide where to fall into that tier and that the state was still struggling with supplies.

“If everyone needs to be vaccinated, we might as well tell people the truth: There won’t be any personal instructions in the state of California. Just tell them the truth. Don’t mislead people,” Newsom said. “If vaccinations are the absolute, maybe we should have another conversation with the people of California and their parents.”

Newsom’s open statement highlighted the governor’s frustration over attempts to reopen classrooms in California. The governor has offered a record amount of funding to schools and improved access to personal protective equipment and coronavirus testing to encourage schools to reopen. His most recent attempt includes $ 2 billion in grants going to elementary schools ready to open next month.

But, be Plan schools for everyone has been criticized by superintendents, trade unions and lawmakers alike. Some large districts say they cannot afford the testing requirements to be eligible and that unions will not sign anything that does not include a vaccination schedule.

Teachers and some parents remain concerned about returning to campus due to persistently high infection rates. As the winter tide subsides, the spread of the coronavirus remains higher than it did during most of fall, when most school staff said it was still unsafe. Low-income families of color have suffered worse than others from the virus, and many have indicated that they are more reluctant to send their children back.

The California Teachers Association has stated that schools should only open in the red tier or better of the state, which would require a county’s case rate to drop below seven daily cases per 100,000 residents. The governor’s new reopening plan says it will be safe to return when cases hit 25 daily cases per 100,000 population, more than three times what CTA considers acceptable.

Newsom on Thursday confirmed criticism of the plan and expects details to change in negotiations with lawmakers, but said something needs to be done. The reopening goals set out in his December proposal were to plant a “proverbial flag,” Newsom said, and should accelerate reopening talks.

Newsom said if schools don’t act now, the academic loss for children will be worse than expected. President Joe Biden has renewed the sense of urgency and promised to reopen schools within his first 100 days in office. But California has to do its own job now or vulnerable students like English learners will be pushed back even further, said the governor.

“I can assure you that if these numbers continue and other districts across the country move in the direction we are facing today, compared to where we will be in a couple of weeks, the pressure will ease the new government they want to move in, “said Newsom.

Newsom applauded teachers for their work over the past year, but said distance learning isn’t working for many students and discussed his battle with dyslexia as a child and his current struggles with his own four children.

His 4-year-old son doesn’t “study” online, he said.

“He talks about Zoom School, it doesn’t work for him. It doesn’t work for his parents,” Newsom said. “… He just isn’t paying attention.”

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