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State will urge use of face masks in schools

Recommendations spur pushback from districts

By Roxana Kopetman

rkopetman@scng.com @roxanakopetman on Twitter

Students, teachers and staff should expect to wear masks when schools reopen. They also will need to maintain social distancing on campus and on school buses. And at least some of the instruction will be offered online, not in a classroom.

These are some of the recommendations that California Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond says will be part of the state’s guidelines for local school officials to use as they make plans to open their districts in the 2020-21 school year.

Though Thurmond didn’t offer those guidelines during a Facebook Live chat Wednesday, he said they are coming in early June, perhaps as soon as next week. He also mentioned other details: temperature checks for students and staff, and so-called blended education, meaning a mix of in-person and online instruction.

SCHOOLS » PAGE 12

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond will release school guidelines in June.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


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State education leaders and officials with local agencies such as the Orange County Department of Education still are waiting on state health officials to weigh in before releasing their own recommendations on what schools need to do when they reopen.

But even when state guidelines come out, each district will be in charge of setting its own policies, meaning school districts will make their own rules and school could look different for students, parents and teachers depending on their district. The only edicts that school districts are legally required to follow include orders from Gov. Gavin Newsom or rules under the state’s education code.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County Department of Education on Tuesday released its framework for reopening. The guidelines in L.A. will include mandatory cloth face masks for all, limiting classrooms to 16 students and one-way hallways. Schools in the area also could stagger the use of such things as restrooms and the playground.

“Each district will customize a plan that will make sense for them,” said Al Mijares, superintendent of the Orange County Department of Education.

Not every district is happy to include face coverings and social distancing, two rules that health officials have insisted upon in other areas of public life. A letter sent to Newsom last week from the superintendents of 11 districts in Los Angeles County spelled out their objections.

“While many of these proposed guidelines may be feasible in a hospital setting or a commercial business setting, we do not believe they are feasible or practical in a school setting,” the superintendents wrote.

“To think that children would wear face coverings for 8 hours a day is unimaginable,” they wrote.

They also protested the suggestion that an entire class of students should be quarantined for 14 days if one of them tests positive.

“This policy would make it almost impossible to return to school. Rather than quarantining the person who tests positive, and those likely in contact, this policy would apply a blanket approach that would cripple any hopes of in-person instruction.”

The May 21 letter was signed by superintendents of the following school districts: Beverly Hills Unified, Hacienda La Puente Unified, Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified, Norwalk-La Mirada Unified, Claremont Unified, Hermosa Beach City School, Temple City Unified, West Covina Unified, Centinela Valley Union High, Hughes-Elizabeth Lakes Union and Glendora Unified.

In Orange County, both the county department of education and individual school districts have set up task forces to consider what their schools will look like when school resumes, which for many districts is early August.

Mijares, superintendent of the department that supports 27 other public school districts in Orange County, said online learning can only augment, not replace, a live teacher in a classroom setting. But even as he said hands-on learning in a classroom, with peers, is the best setting for learning, he added that a balance must be struck that includes health protections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When it comes to the virus itself, we have to rely on the experts,” Mijares said. “What do the scientists say about how to keep safe.

“As soon as we get that advice from the California Department of Public Health, that will filter to our health officer,” who will then make recommendations to the local educators, Mijares said.

Online learning is likely to play a bigger role next year than it would in a normal year and could become a bigger factor, statewide.

On Wednesday, Thurmond focused on the “digital divide” between students who have access to computers and the internet and the hundreds of thousands who do not. Thurmond said California needs to invest at least $500 million to get those students computers and internet hot spots so that they can receive an effective online education. He called on companies, foundations and individuals to step forward and help in the state effort.

Educators are grappling with the prospect of less money at a time when they’re being called to do so much more. The coronavirus pandemic could strip as much as $54 billion from the state budget, including up to $19 billion previously slated for K-12 schools and community colleges.

It will be difficult, educators said, to find more classroom space, pay for extra teaching sessions, protective gear and other services and amenities if the budget is pared so drastically.

Mijares said educators are trying to figure out how to make it all work.

“The fact is that education can’t stop,” he said.

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