The novel coronavirus pandemic will shape what the 2020-21 California public school year looks like, when it begins in a little more than two months.

“We’ve learned from the experience of (the 1918 flu) pandemic,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said during an online press event Wednesday morning, May 27. “We know that we can flatten the curve by doing a few simple things,” like social distancing, hand washing and using face coverings.

“California is rising to meet that challenge,” he said.

The California Department of Education has a task force creating guidelines for the state’s 1,037 public school districts to reopen for the new school year. Thurmond said Wednesday that those guidelines should be ready in “days, not weeks,” although he stressed the need to get the guidance right. Local school districts would be free to follow, or ignore, the guidance locally.

On Wednesday, Thurmond gave a few details of what students, parents and staff could expect things to look like.

“We expect that students, and staff, will be wearing face coverings in school,” he said.

Students and staff would be spread out, providing social distancing at school, through smaller class sizes and having fewer students on each bus.

That will be aided by some students still getting instruction at home.

“Some parents have asked for distance learning. Others are saying ‘hey, I’ve got to get back to work,’” Thurmond said. “We expect there will be a balance between distance learning and in-class instruction.”

He also expects schools to use “every part of the school campus” to help spread students out during the day.

Staff would be taking students’ temperatures and parents might be asked to take their children’s temperatures before they leave home in the morning.

But one of the challenges facing educators is a long-existing one: the “digital divide” between those who have computers and Internet access and those who do not.

“We have hundreds of thousands of students without a computing device,” Thurmond said. “Where we’re heading, we’re going to need California’s companies to step up.”

It’s been a longstanding problem, which was previously discussed when California switched to computerized standardized testing in 2015. Thurmond said it’s time to close the gap.

“We’re going to go for the moonshot,” Thurmond said. “We will close the digital divide. We’re drawing a line in the sand.”

He estimated that about 600,000 students are without a computing device. Thurmond called the estimated $500 million need to get those students access to a computing device and Internet connection, “the minimum number.”

He asked for help from California businesses, foundations and individuals in the effort. He specifically praised Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, for his $10  million donation to Oakland Unified earlier this month to help connect students to the Internet. Half of Oakland Unified’s 50,000 public school students don’t have their own computer or internet access, or are under-connected, according to the school district.

But schools will need help in other ways, too, especially as potential budget cuts loom during the financial crisis caused by the pandemic.

“We’re going to need more face coverings, we’re going to need more cleaning supplies,” Thurmond said. “We’re going to need more resources instead of budget cuts.”

The superintendent expressed hope that the federal government would provide some funding for public schools in another stimulus bill.

As of Monday, May 25, California had identified 98,980 cases of COVID-19 and 3,884 deaths blamed on the disease. Just over 1 in 20 of the cases affected Californians 17 years old or younger. As of May 25, the state has no record of anyone 17 or younger dying of the disease.

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *