Inside schools’ strange likely new reality

New guidelines suggest massive changes

Blocked-off play structures. Classes reduced to half or a quarter of their normal size. Kids eating lunch at desks spaced 6 feet apart. Scheduled class time for handwashing. Students allocated one basketball or hula hoop to play with alone during recess. Books put in storage because they can’t be sanitized frequently enough. And, of course, face masks.

Noah, 5, washes his hands as a Heritage employee Becky Garcia acts out the motions for him to follow. Students and teachers only wear masks while doing indoor activities unless a student’s parent has requested they wear them all the time. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Noah, 5, washes his hands as Heritage School of Discovery employee Becky Garcia acts out the motions for him to follow. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

This may be the reality for many of California’s 6 million public school students when campuses reopen in the fall, guidelines released Wednesday by the Los Angeles County Office of Education and earlier in May by the Sonoma County Office of Education suggest.

However, local school districts are ultimately responsible for putting together their own reopening plans, and don’t have to follow guidance from either the county or state, which plans to release its recommendations in early June.

School districts will also decide for themselves when to reopen, a likely uneven process exacerbated by financial difficulties. Last week, six superintendents warned Gov. Gavin Newsom their reopening would be delayed due to proposed budget cuts of $6.5 billion.

Both the Los Angeles and Sonoma County guidelines suggest significantly reducing class size by adopting a hybrid learning model in which students rotate between online and in-person learning.

This could mean students spend half the day at school and half at home, or one group of students goes to school Mondays and Wednesdays while another group goes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

  • UCLA education professor Pedro Noguera“There are a lot of kids that are more social, and they look to school for their friends and their teachers. And they’re going to be at a huge disadvantage.”


The Bottom Line: As of 9 p.m. Wednesday night, California had 96,733 confirmed coronavirus cases and 3,679 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

Other stories you should know

1. Assemblyman Bill Brough sexually harassed two people, investigation finds

Assemblymember Bill Brough on the assembly floor, September 12, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Assemblyman Bill Brough on the Assembly floor, Sept. 12, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

A report released Wednesday by the Legislature’s workplace conduct unit found Republican Assemblyman Bill Brough of Dana Point sexually harassed two people, engaging in “inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature” and “impliedly offer[ing] political favors in exchange for sexual activity.” Brough has been removed from all committees and will be required to take harassment training.

Brough’s term ends in January. He didn’t qualify for the November general election after coming in fourth out of five candidates in the March primary.

  • California GOP Chair Jessica Patterson in a statement: “The California Republican Party did not endorse him for his re-election as we awaited completion of this process.  Thankfully, Mr. Brough did not qualify for the General Election ballot. Our thoughts are with his victims and hope that today’s confirmation of their accounts gives them some peace and ability to put this horrible situation behind them.”

Four women have accused Brough of sexual harassment and unwanted touching. He denies the allegations. It’s unclear if the investigation included those allegations or was about new ones.

Last year, the state’s campaign finance watchdog launched an investigation into Brough for potential personal use of campaign funds.

Brough said in a statement Wednesday he disagreed with “the findings and the politically motivated process.”

He added, “I categorically deny harassing or offering political favors to anyone. I will take the recommended training. I also want to apologize to my family, friends and supporters for putting them through this unfair process.”

2. The future of California farming in a post-pandemic world

A fieldworker walks through strawberry fields on Saturday, April 25, 2020. Photo by David Rodriguez, The Salinas Californian
A fieldworker walks through strawberry fields on April 25. Photo by David Rodriguez, The Salinas Californian

With disrupted supply chains and shuttered restaurants and schools, the coronavirus pandemic is forcing farmers to reevaluate how they do business, the Salinas Californian’s Kate Cimini reports in a CalMatters collaboration. California’s $50 billion farming industry has taken a big hit, and farmers are brainstorming new survival strategies — like diversifying their farm locations and their sales portfolios. Many growers are now selling produce boxes directly to consumers using the Community Supported Agriculture model. But challenges remain: The industry is facing a huge deficit, even as expenses rise and the demand for farmworker labor holds steady.

  • U.S. Rep. Jim Costa, a California Democrat: The pandemic “has changed the food supply chain for our country in ways we could never have imagined before. … We’re in uncharted waters. Those that adapt are the ones that are able to succeed.”

3. How lottery money set aside for CDs and videotapes could help CA community colleges

The student services building at West Los Angeles College. Photo by Tracie Hall via Flickr

One way to free up $81 million for California’s community colleges: update archaic language that directs some of the state’s lottery revenue to “video disks, compact disks, optical disks, video and audiotapes” for community colleges and K-12 schools. (Disclosure: I had to Google “optical disks.”) The community college system asked the Legislature on Monday to modernize the wording so it can use the money for laptops, virtual labs and other tech tools students will need for distance learning, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office pitched the idea as a way to help patch the more than $1 billion in cuts the 115-campus system is facing. Check out Mikhail’s article for more proposed solutions.

4. Photo essay: The spring when California stood still

A man bikes past the locked gate at The Santa Cruz Beach boardwalk on May 7, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A man bikes past the locked gate at the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk on May 7. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

As California accelerates toward reopening, CalMatters photographer Anne Wernikoff takes a look back at the months when the state stood still, streets were empty, and almost everything shut down. Her photo essay captures those moments of stillness and contemplates this slice of history from the middle of it.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: There’s a complicated backstory to Newsom’s proposal to shut down a state veterans home in Barstow. The moral of the backstory: Making decisions for purely political purposes serves no one.

Widespread voter fraud is a myth: The Republican challenge to Newsom’s executive order on mail-in ballots is a bad political argument dressed up like a lawsuit, argues Jessica Levinson, professor at Loyola Law School.

An ineffective political Band-Aid: The controversial Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5 is simply feel-good rhetoric wrapped in a steep price tag that will fall short of establishing long-lasting diversity, writes Wenyuan Wu of the Asian American Coalition for Education.

Newsom should have done his homework: The governor was wrong to defund adult day health care and other senior service programs in his proposed budget. Our seniors deserve better, writes Deane Dana of Sacramento.

Other things worth your time

Here’s a detailed breakdown of what’s open in each county — and what’s not. // The Los Angeles Times

Podcast: What’s in California’s post-pandemic housing plan — and what isn’t? // CalMatters

California’s office buildings could face new health threat: unsafe water as it sits stagnant for months. // The San Francisco Chronicle

California bullet train could end up needing subsidies, despite promises to voters to the contrary. // The Los Angeles Times

Weather delays Elon Musk’s SpaceX launch of NASA astronauts. // The New York Times

California attorney general files new environmental lawsuit against Trump administration. // The Los Angeles Times

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