CA eases way for schools to reopen full-time

Alisal Elementary School first-grade instructor Erin Salcido teaches class on March 4, 2021, in Pleasanton. Photo by Aric Crabb, Bay Area News Group

California just made it significantly easier for K-12 schools to bring students back to campus full-time — but some of the state’s largest districts and most powerful unions are pushing back, suggesting that hundreds of thousands of students may not receive daily in-person instruction this school year.

Student desks should now be kept a minimum of 3 feet apart, down from the previously recommended 6 feet, according to guidelines the California Department of Public Health released Saturday. The revision came a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced its spacing recommendations from 6 to 3 feet and less than a week after a superior court judge blocked California from enforcing its spacing rules because of their impact on students’ educational equality. The state on Saturday also made it easier for middle and high schools to reopen in the most restrictive purple tier.

The new spacing guidelines quadruple the number of students who can sit in a classroom at one time, paving the way for schools to transition from hybrid learning to full-time in-person instruction. But the final decision still rests with local districts and teachers unions — and many, including Los Angeles Unified, have struck reopening deals contingent on desks being 6 feet apart.

The California Teachers Association also appeared to oppose the new guidelines, which it framed as “another confusing message” that could result in “cramming young adults into classrooms.”

The backlash could increase pressure on Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue an executive order compelling schools to reopen full-time. Although Newsom said last week on CNN that he’s “been living through Zoom school,” Politico reported Friday that his four children have been attending in-person classes since October.

Meanwhile, many special-needs students appear to have regressed socially, physically and academically after having spent more than a year without critical in-person services, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano and Elizabeth Aguilera report.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 3,545,278 confirmed cases (+0.1% from the previous day) and 56,118 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

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