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What to Know About California’s Plan to Reopen Schools?

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On March 2, 2021 lawmakers and Governor Newsom unveiled what they hope to be the final statewide plan to reopen public schools by April 1st. The plan, detailed in Assembly Bill 86, essentially uses additional monies to incentivize schools to bring students back into the classroom in stages.  

The plan calls for $6.6 billion in total.  $2 billion would pay for safety upgrades like protective equipment, improved ventilation, and coronavirus testing. The remaining $4.6 billion would be used to fund “expanded learning opportunities,” like summer school and tutoring, as well as expanded mental health services.

Districts would get their share of the $2 billion if they offer in person learning to students from transitional kindergarten through 2nd grade in the most restrictive purple tier, as well as high needs students in all grade levels.  For school districts in areas that have moved down from purple to the red tier, currently including San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, in person learning must be offered to all elementary grades as well as at least one middle school or one high school grade by the end of the month.  Districts that do not would lose 1 percent of the funding each day these goals aren’t met, losing all the money by May 15th.  

Ensuring teachers are vaccinated has been a prickly point of contention between the governor and the state’s teachers unions, who have insisted all teachers be vaccinated as a condition for returning to what they consider a potentially hazardous workplace. The governor, however, cited CDC guidance that it is safe to reopen schools before all teachers are vaccinated.  

Although the bill does not reach the point of requiring teachers be vaccinated, it does codify an allotment of 10% of the state’s vaccine supply to teachers. And officials say they are taking steps to speed up vaccinations for teachers. 

Not all students must return to in person classrooms to get the money. School districts can use some of the $4.6 billion to support continued distance learning. 

The plan obviously doesn’t meet the needs and goals of every party involved but as Toni Atkins, a leader in the state senate, said during a March 1st press conference: “What’s there left to say, except that we have all been working diligently to get to this moment?”

Sky Pittson, MD,  March 10, 2021