Gov. Newsom’s announcement that California schools could be back in session as soon as July has left parents, students, teachers, and government officials with many unanswered questions.
No decisions have officially been made, Newsom said, but noted that California officials are looking at the best ways to reopen various aspects of the California government, economy, and education system.
“The learning loss is very real,” Newsom said in his daily press briefing, referring to the vast array of struggles facing both educators and students trying to conduct learning from home.
The final decision of whether or not to reopen schools would be left up to each individual district, all proposed changes to the school schedule would need to be negotiated and worked out between the districts and teachers unions.
E. Toby Boyd, President of California Teachers Association also noted the many factors that have to be taken into account when reopening schools.
“When students physically return to school campuses, it needs to be planned and deliberate with public health at the forefront of all decision-making,” said Boyd in a statement. “This must include safety supports for students and educators.”
There are many different aspects that will be factored into the final decision of California education officials as to what they advise for the upcoming school year. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond has said that the safety of students and staff remain the highest priority and will be at the forefront of the discussion as to when schools can reopen and in what fashion.
Newsom made it clear that when schools do eventually reopen, it will not look the same as when students left because social distancing guidelines will still be in effect.
““I think it will be very hard to social distance at school,” said sophomore Owen Burns. “It will be difficult to social distance in classrooms that are already crowded.”
Newsom said to expect staggered school times for different groups of kids to minimize the number of kids in each classroom and therefore increase the ability to social distance in the classroom.
Principal Brian Ginter agreed that social distancing, especially at a school that has an impacted student population like Rio, would be extremely hard to achieve.
“There is no chance we will go back to school early,” Ginter said, saying that if social distancing guidelines are still in effect, he does not believe that students or staff will be back on campus.
Other modifications to the regular school day would also have to be made, from different styles of lunch periods to efforts to increase classroom cleaning between classes. This raises the question of how teachers would get their duty-free lunch breaks and how custodial staff could accommodate an exponentially more intense cleaning schedule.
“I don’t believe that Rio is big enough to house all of their students while maintaining social distancing,” said freshman Surina Naran. “In addition to that, desks would need to be cleaned between every class and distancing would need to be maintained in our very cramped hallways. It’s simply not possible.”
There is a major financial aspect factoring into the decisions regarding school reopenings as well: districts statewide have been told to expect significant budget cuts for the 2020-21 school year because of a loss in tax revenues from business closures and job losses.
Thurmond said that an early school start would not only allow parents and caregivers to return to work but would also help the “most vulnerable students”, those without proper access to technology and resources needed to be successful in distance learning, gain access to a more equitable learning situation. But, preventative measures like protective equipment for staff, or additional teachers hired to accommodate smaller classes could have major cost implications for the state and education budgets, said Thurmond.
Whatever ends up happening, it is certain that there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before California’s students, including Rio students, get back into the physical classroom.