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LA And Long Beach School Districts Have Concerns About Gov. Newsom’s School Reopening Plan

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The entrance to the Long Beach Polytechnic campus (Megan Garvey / LAist)
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Superintendents from seven of the state’s largest school districts, including Los Angeles and Long Beach Unified, have sent a letter to Governor Newsom pushing back on his newly proposed reopening plan for schools.

Newsom’s Safer Schools for All Plan, released in late December, encourages California’s 1,037 public school districts to draft plans for offering in-person instruction, once COVID-19 cases reach a low enough threshold.

After those district’s reopening guidelines are approved by local labor unions, county and state officials, and adopted, they can be eligible to receive $450 per student. For LAUSD, that could mean at least $180 million.

But local school districts are not ready to jump on board yet. The letter argues that Newsom’s plan disadvantages large school districts, like LAUSD, that serve low-income families—many of whom are infected with coronavirus at disproportionate rates.

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If those schools can’t open for in-person learning because of surging case rates, local districts worry they could lose out on the money offered. The letter calls Newsom’s proposal a reversal of the state’s commitment to equitable funding:

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

The state’s plan recognizes the potential for unequal support, and promises to weight funding for “districts serving students from low-income families, English learners and foster youth.”

Instead of that, the signatory superintendents want money to be available for all schools.

Superintendent Jill Baker of Long Beach Unified says she signed the letter because she supports reopening schools, but wants to see a statewide standard for doing that, instead of leaving it up to individual districts, as the Safer Schools Plan suggests.

“None of the school districts were consulted about the plan before it was released,” Baker said. “The letter was an effort to describe what we think needs to be done from here, as the largest urban districts in the state of California.”

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Baker says Long Beach Unified might only receive residual funding according to Newsom’s plan, after smaller districts with lower case rates get the first opportunities.

As of January 5, Los Angeles County had a daily new case rate of 65.8 positive cases of coronavirus out of 100,000 residents, adjusted for testing. For classes to reopen, a county must report less than 28 positive cases out of 100,000 residents over a seven-day average.

“Our proposal is to think about an equity-centered approach, to look at the variation of needs across the state,” Baker said.

Along with the demands about equal funding, the letter outlines several other declarations and recommendations:

  • The districts say they are ready to open for in-person instruction whenever health standards are met and the state determines schools should be open

  • Basic reopening guidelines should be standardized for every school district. Once safe, all districts should be mandated to offer in person instruction

  • Public health funds, not money from Proposition 98, should be used for school-site COVID-19 testing and other health-related costs

  • COVID-19 testing and vaccinations should be integrated with schools and funded by the state

  • Supplemental state funding should go towards reopening special education in-person

  • The state should explain how COVID-19 caseload thresholds are determined for deciding if in-person instruction is safe

UPDATE, Jan. 7, 12 pm: This article has been updated to reflect the coronavirus case rate throughout Los Angeles County.
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