Newsom and Lawmakers reach deal for school reopening, Republican’s say it’s not good enough

Written by Justin Culetu

With the teachers’ unions fighting against in-person learning, Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Legislatures have finally reached an agreement to allocate $6.6 billion to public schools that return to in-person instruction by the end of March. 

Most of California’s public schools have been conducting remote learning for almost a year now, keeping students away from the classroom environment which is crucial to their development. The slow return is mostly due to the teacher’s unions’ unwillingness. However, studies clearly show that schools are not COVID-19 hotspots. 

Fortunately, most of San Diego County’s schools have opened, but larger districts like San Diego Unified have held back on this action. SDUSD has set the conditional reopening date for April 12th, which will only happen if school staff can get both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and if the county falls to the red tier. 

California counties have been following Gov. Newsom’s flawed color-coded tier system for reopening based on active cases and daily infection rates. To be eligible for state funding, districts in the most restrictive purple tier must return to in-person learning at least through second grade, according to state officials. Counties in the second most restrictive tier (red tier), will be required to allow students from all elementary school grades to return to the classrooms, as well as at least one middle and high school grade. Districts will also get an extra $1,000 for every homeless student they have. 

The money will be distributed by the state through local districts, and the deal ensures more money will go towards schools that serve low income students. After April 1st, for each instructional day that a district does not conduct in-person instruction, the amount of money they are eligible to receive will go down by 1%. 

This bill does not require students and staff to receive the vaccine upon reopening, nor does it require districts to get permission from teachers’ unions to reopen. Testing requirements are only mandatory for schools in purple tier areas. 

After almost a year of remote learning, it is essential that students return to the classrooms. The online learning environment has introduced many negative effects on students, ultimately hindering their potential as well as taking a toll on their mental health. As the science shows, there is no reason for schools to not return to in-person instruction. Especially as the rest of the country begins to leave California in the dust regarding reopening. 

California’s Senate Republicans released a statement in which they criticize the bill, saying “Nothing in the bill actually requires schools to reopen, but it merely incentivizes them to do so.”

“With the same stroke of his pen that closed the schools a year ago, the governor could have reopened them months ago. He did not,” said Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita). “I support providing incentives for reopening schools. We should be doing all we can to get kids back in the classroom, but make no mistake, unless reopening is required, most California students will finish out the school year in their living rooms glued to a computer screen.”

Senate Republicans proposed two amendments to the bill, which were not accepted:

  • To reopen schools within 15 days with a 5 day-a-week option.
  • To require a minimum of 3 days in-person instruction a week to be considered “reopened” – right now even a hybrid with one day a week would count as reopened.

Photo by Eric Gaillard/Reuters