Throughout the week, school districts in California have made announcements regarding the format in which they’ll deliver instruction during the upcoming school year. On Monday the Los Angeles Unified School District and the San Diego Unified School District announced they’d be fully online. Tuesday night the Orange County Board of Education voted to bring students back to campus with no mask mandate.
King Gavin Newsom was not happy about that. Just like he did when Orange County leaders ticked him off a few months ago by opening beaches, Gavin decided retribution against all was the best medicine. Only this time he’s less obvious about it.
Friday afternoon Gavin announced state guidelines for reopening schools in the fall, ordering that all schools (private/charter/public) in any county on the state’s watchlist are prohibited from offering anything but distance learning until that county is off the watchlist for at least 14 days. He also announced a number of requirements schools must meet to bring students back to campus, including:
- All students in 3rd grade and above must wear masks
- Students in 2nd grade and below are encouraged to wear masks or face shields
- Schools must test staff “regularly”
- Schools must perform regular symptom checks on students and staff
- Staff and students maintain 6′ physical distancing
- Limit use and sharing of objects and equipment, such as toys, games, art supplies, and playground equipment to the extent practicable.
- Minimize the movement of students and teachers or staff as much as practicable.
- Students and teachers should remain in the same “cohort” throughout the day, meaning they won’t be able to socialize with students outside of their class.
- Band and choir practices and performances are prohibited.
- Singing can only take place outside.
- Schools will have to revert to distance learning if a certain percentage of new cases emerge, and the entire district will have to revert to distance learning.
There are so many problems with this plan.
First, there is no consistency or predictability with this. So the county is off the watch list for 14 days. What happens if they go back on the watchlist, or if there are infections on campus? Are families, students, and teachers, supposed to go about their lives with no assurances of when they will or will not be on campus?
Second, the one statistic that’s remained constant from the beginning of this crisis until today is the disproportionate percentage of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths occurring in Los Angeles County. The county represents one-quarter of the state’s population but roughly half (depending upon the day) of the cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Why are major portions of the state paying the price for Los Angeles County’s incompetence?
Third, a significant portion of the recent spike in cases is due to clusters in nursing homes, prisons, and migrant farmworker camps. For the most part, you’ll not find school children in those sectors. Arguably you could find school children living in migrant farmworker camps, but for the most part, families don’t live among single male farmworkers. Those workers are usually housed dormitory-style by the farm owners. (An entire conversation could be had about what could be done to mitigate spread there and about sometimes squalid conditions, but that’s not the point of this piece.)
Fourth, while California’s minority population has been hard-hit by the virus, keeping schools closed doesn’t help them in any way or mitigate spread. The theory is that the state’s minority population is more likely to work in “essential” jobs and at higher risk of exposure. Regardless of what type of learning school districts offer, those workers will be going to work.
Fifth, related to the state’s minority population being employed in “essential” jobs, if the children of those workers are forced to participate in distance learning it’s a safe bet that an adult won’t be available give the assistance the children will inevitably need. So these kids will fall further behind their peers assuming their districts stick with virtual learning all year, no matter what assurances Gavin Newsom gives.
Sixth, students who have learning or physical disabilities and are forced to have distance-only learning are screwed. There is no way that the state can meet the needs of students with Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s) and Section 504 Plans utilizing distance learning. There is no way that the high school students who are enrolled in the state’s transition planning program will be able to receive the help they need to succeed after high school in a purely virtual environment. This could be a violation of federal law; there are rumblings that class action lawsuits may be filed soon by parents of students with disabilities.
Those are specific problems with this plan, but in general, it is terrible for children. You’re going to send them to school with a mask over their face, not allow them to socialize with friends who aren’t in their “cohort” – and even then, they can’t get closer than 6 feet – not allow them to have band or choir, put so many restrictions on toys, art equipment, and playground usage that nothing is fun, and expect school districts to keep up with testing, symptom checks, quarantine, and more? So every time a child sniffles they’re going to be at risk? Talk about developing a generation of anxious and self-conscious people.
Under this plan, students lose all around. If they’re forced into 100 percent distance learning, they miss the socialization that’s so important, their extracurricular activities, and their education will undoubtedly suffer. If they do return to campus with these guidelines, the focus won’t be on education. The focus will be on abiding by these guidelines.
Why would Newsom issue such an order? Smacking down Orange County’s attempt at free thought, local control, and freedom is definitely one reason.
Another possible reason is to get around the requirements of newly-passed Senate Bill 98, a trailer bill passed as part of the budget a few weeks ago. That bill – passed before Dems nationwide decided they were against in-person instruction because President Trump was for it – provides that in-person, on-campus learning was the default for the coming school and that distance learning was only allowed under two very narrow exceptions. One exception is if a state or local health officer orders or gives guidance that campuses should be closed. Neither Los Angeles County nor San Diego County had done so, paving the way for a possible funding challenge, since SB 98 ties compliance with its mandates to per-student apportionment to the school districts.
See? Nothing is ever a coincidence.
At the end of his press conference, Gavin Newsom took some shots at President Trump, characterizing the administration’s desire for students to return to campuses in the fall as economics-driven, while Newsom is focused on safety. Newsom referenced keeping employees safe at multiple points in the presser, and other Democrats have referenced the “older” teachers or those who are at high risk for other reasons who can’t risk getting sick by going back to school. It might sound heartless, but perhaps those teachers should just find a job that doesn’t put them at risk. They can either retire, serve as a distance learning teacher, transfer to a job that doesn’t require them to be on campus, or find another job. Newsom’s policy and plans show a governor kowtowing to unions instead of students, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s been watching.