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State orders distance learning when school year begins across SoCal

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Gov. Gavin Newsom Friday ordered all school campuses to remain closed when the academic year begins in counties on the state's monitoring list due to spiking coronavirus cases -- including San Diego, Riverside, Los Angeles and Orange counties.

The order means districts across Southern California will begin the new school year with distance-learning programs, as opposed to in-person classes. The state's two largest districts, Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified, had already announced plans to begin the new academic year with online-only courses.

On Friday morning, before the Governor's remarks, Fallbrook Union High School District Superintendent Dr. Ilsa Garza-Gonzalez notified parents that the school would be starting the school year with distance learning.

"I’m writing to you today to inform you that out of an abundance of caution and concern for the health and safety of our students, their families, and our staff, we now have the intention to re-open instruction on August 17th in a full distance learning format for FUHS," Garza-Gonzalez wrote. "All possible options for reopening our schools in a manner that is safe and meets that guidelines recommended by the CA Department of Public Health in COVID-19 Industry Guidance: Schools and School-based Programs and in the CA Department of Education’s Stronger Together: A Guidebook for the Safe Reopening of California’s Public Schools have been thoroughly considered. Based on the current rise in COVID-19 cases throughout our state and in Fallbrook, we strongly believe that the safest option is a temporary full distance learning program. Instruction will be delivered in a distance learning model for the duration of the first grading period which is equivalent to the first six weeks of school."

Newsom said school campuses will only be allowed to open in counties that have been off the state's monitoring list for at least 14 days. Counties are placed on the monitoring list based on a variety of factors, including coronavirus transmission and fatality rates. As of Friday, 32 California counties were on the list.

Schools that are eventually allowed to reopen will have to meet a series of other requirements, including mandatory masks for staff and students in third-grade and above, physical distancing mandates and regular on-campus coronavirus testing. He also said distance-learning programs at closed campuses must be "rigorous,'' with daily student interaction.

"Learning in the state of California is simply non-negotiable,'' Newsom said. "Schools must ... provide meaningful instruction during this pandemic whether they are physically open, the schools, or not.

"... Our students, our teachers, staff and certainly parents, we all prefer in-classroom instruction for all the obvious reasons -- social and emotional, foundationally -- but only if it can be done safely.''

He added, "Safety is foundational, and safety will ultimately make the determination of how we go about educating our kids as we move into the fall and we work our way through this pandemic.''

Under the guidelines announced by Newsom, in schools that are allowed to open, students and staff in individual classrooms will be sent home when a single case in the class is confirmed. The entire school will be closed if cases are confirmed in multiple classrooms, or if more than 5% of the school tests positive for the virus.

An entire district will be closed if 25% of its schools are shut down in a 14-day period, he said.

Open schools will be expected to have a series of infection-control measures in place, including morning symptom/temperature checks, hand-washing stations, "deep sanitation'' efforts and quarantine protocols.

Driving home his demand that distance-learning be effective learning, Newsom said he expects school districts to ensure that students are engaged in the educational process.

"We want daily, live interaction with teachers and other students -- students connecting peer-to-peer with other students, teachers connecting daily in an interactive frame to advance our distance learning efforts,'' Newsom said.

He conceded that the effectiveness of distance learning during the spring months varied widely across the state, noting, "Clearly we have work to do to make sure we are doing rigorous distance learning.''

"We want to create a challenging environment where assignments are equivalent in terms of what you would otherwise get in an in-person class setting,'' he said. "I'm not naive, and again we stipulate ... that staff, that teachers, that parents prefer the social-emotional learning of in-class education. That's our default, that's our bias.''

But he said "under the circumstance with the spread of this virus,'' keeping campuses closed is a necessity in counties being hard-hit by the pandemic.

"In the coming days and weeks you will receive more information and details about our reopening," Garza-Gonzalez said. "Next

week, I will make a presentation available to you and provide a forum for questions and/or concerns. You will also be receiving information on registration for the 2020-21 school year."


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