Newsom: 99% of schools to reopen fully in fall

Second-grader Quinn Stevens, 7, carries a sign during a rally to reopen publish schools for in-person instruction at Astro Park in Oakland on Feb. 28, 2021. “I miss my friends,” said Quinn on why she wants to return to the classroom. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

“The one thing I’m certain of is there’s uncertainty in the future,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a Friday press conference that cast doubts on the extent of the state’s grand reopening next week.

It was difficult not to think of that comment when Newsom announced Monday that 99% of schools for which the state has data plan to reopen for full-time in-person instruction in the fall. Yet the definition of “reopening” remains vague. Although Newsom and state lawmakers have vowed an end to distance learning, they’re currently negotiating a budget that would allow students to keep learning remotely through beefed-up independent study plans — and some districts are even launching fully virtual schools to match demand from parents who don’t yet feel comfortable sending their kids back to campus.

Meanwhile, other districts are negotiating fall reopening rules that look almost identical to current practices. In Los Angeles, for example, the teachers union is pushing for strict safety protocols that include mandatory masking and COVID-19 testing — presumably even for fully vaccinated students and staff. Yet the state is lifting its mask mandate next week, and updated its testing guidance Monday to exempt fully vaccinated Californians from COVID-19 testing and screening in almost all situations.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Public Health announced Monday the launch of a $25 million campaign intended to help families hard-hit by the pandemic gain confidence that school campuses are safe.

Another pandemic policy that could continue post-COVID: free school meals for all children, CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal reports. If a proposal introduced by top Democrats is approved in budget negotiations this week, California would allocate $650 million annually starting in the 2022-23 fiscal year to cover breakfast and lunch for all public school students.

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