Superintendents from urban districts critical of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s school reopening plan – Daily News

Several superintendents representing some of the state’s largest urban school districts are criticizing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s school reopening plan, saying it likely would benefit students from more affluent districts while low-income children in communities hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic remain in distance learning.

In a seven-page letter dated Wednesday, Jan. 6, school chiefs from Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno, Long Beach, San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento called Newsom’s proposal “a start toward recovery,” but said the plan “fails to address the needs of the urban school districts that serve nearly a quarter of California students, almost all of whom live below the poverty level.”

Newsom last week announced his Safe Schools for All plan, a $2 billion proposal to reopen schools for in-person learning. The initial phase would focus on getting the state’s youngest learners — those in transitional kindergarten through the second grade — and students most disproportionately impacted by the pandemic back into classrooms as early as mid-February. Districts that reopen would receive about $450 per student, with additional dollars allocated for low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

Although the superintendents praised the $2 billion that Newsom proposed be set aside to help schools reopen, they said COVID-19 testing and vaccinations should be paid for through public health funds. As is currently proposed, the funds would come from Proposition 98, which supplies money intended for educational purposes such as reducing class sizes and purchasing classroom supplies.

“Every dollar of Prop. 98 funds spent on public health costs is a dollar which will not be available to be spent on students in a classroom,” the letter states.

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The letter also said that there should be specific funding to support special education students, who have been among those most harmed by prolonged distance learning.

Moving target for reopening

The district leaders also raised issues with Newsom’s proposed threshold for when schools can reopen. Under his proposal, districts can only reopen if the counties they’re in have a seven-day average of 28 or fewer new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents. The threshold was set at seven cases per 100,000 people as recently as last month.

Not only does this lack of consistency in standards cause confusion, the superintendents said, but the proposed threshold likely can’t be met by urban communities, where infection rates are much higher. In other words, schools eligible for reopening would likely come from wealthier neighborhoods, where the rate of COVID infection tends to be lower, while students from high-need communities will be left behind.

“A funding model which supports only schools in communities less impacted by the virus is at odds with California’s long-standing efforts to provide more support to students from low-income families,” the letter states.

“Affluent communities where family members can work from home will see schools open with more funding,” the letter went on to say. “Low-income communities bearing the brunt of the virus will see schools remain closed with lower funding.”

Statewide standards needed

The superintendents also claimed Newsom’s plan leaves too much discretion to individual districts to determine what constitutes a “safe school environment” and what standards must be met for classrooms to reopen. Since November, the group of educational leaders has asked state officials to adopt a statewide set of reopening standards.

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As part of the statewide standards, the educational leaders are asking the state to require schools to open for in-person instruction once safety standards are met.


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