Reopening CA Schools: Some praise Newsom's plan, others say it's too difficult for some districts

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Governor Gavin Newsom revealed a new plan Wednesday to reopen California schools for in-person instruction as early as February.

While some are praising the news, others say this will make it harder for some districts to open.

RELATED: Gov. Newsom announces new plan to reopen schools for in-person learning as early as February

The plan includes $2 billion in funding. Young elementary students and students with special needs would come back first.

The plan calls for increased COVID-19 testing and school staff and students would be required to wear masks.

"It's 15 times more likely for you to get COVID outside of the school setting than in a school setting," says Marin County Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke.

She says the numbers show that schools are safer than the community and she's proud that 95 schools in her county are currently open for in person learning.

"We have the data to show that with those components we do not see in school transmission," Burke said.

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Newsom unveiled a new effort Wednesday to reopen California schools for in-person learning as early as February and March.

According to the county's data, Marin County has seen just six transmission cases and 94 positive coronavirus cases among more than 44,000 kids and adults involved in in-person learning. Burke says the time is right to open more schools.

Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Don Austin agrees but believes the governor's $2 billion plan will set things back because of the restrictions and requirements. Specifically, with the governor's goal of testing all staff and students.

"I think it's late in the game with an incomplete understanding of the logistics involved in the school districts becoming testing sites," says Austin who went on to say that, "practically speaking, the logistics involved are going to be overwhelming for most school districts to consider, especially school districts of any size."

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Palo Alto Unified has had eight student COVID-19 cases and 17 adult ones with no transmissions on campuses, where they've had more than 3,000 students and employees.

They test more than 200 staff every two weeks and have had to dedicate a whole team to it, something that Austin believes will be hard for many bigger districts.

"The most important thing we can do in our state is open schools, and it seems to be the least prioritized," says Austin.

But it's something that we are all now talking about for the first time in weeks.

"The question isn't, 'should we open the schools?' It's, 'what do you need to feel safe?' says Burke.

Right now, Fresno County's rate is double that number, with 56 new cases per 100,000.

Meanwhile, elementary schools in the Central Valley have brought small groups of students back on campus, including special education students, who have focused on mask-wearing, social distancing and other safety measures.

Fresno Unified's Superintendent Bob Nelson released the following statement regarding the governor's announcement on Wednesday:

"Just to clarify that we are aware of the Governor's press conference today, in which he outlined some of the same information shared in this EdSource article which also came out this morning.

We have worked hard on a collective plan for our District that we believe balances a safe return with the need to get our schools normalized, and at this point we are not deviating from that expressed plan as we review the new information released this morning.

Suffice to say we were not anticipating major announcements regarding the status of school children statewide during the week between the Christmas and New Year's holidays, and we need to review this intended proposal, with particular consideration to any recommendations regarding both comprehensive COVID testing and potential vaccine dispersal, which are topics requiring extensive collaboration and coordination with our local health department.

As always, we will pursue a measured and moderate response to this politically-charged, constantly shifting situation. We will continue to prioritize safety, stability, and high-quality instruction, just as we have prior."
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