On December 30, 2020, Governor Newsom issued a new framework for schools so that school districts can reopen or continue operating safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Governor’s “Safe Schools for All Plan”, is based on increasing scientific evidence that the correct precautions can stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools. The Governor and the Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) believe that it is important for student learning, as well as children’s mental health and social emotional needs for students to resume in person instruction.[1]

The Plan focuses on student and staff safety by bringing back the youngest students (TK-2)[2] and those disproportionately affected by the pandemic first. Qualifying school districts will phase-in other grades throughout the spring, as conditions allow.

California’s Safe Schools for All Plan relies on “four pillars”:

1)    Funding. The state has proposed a $2 billion budget for the safe reopening of public schools beginning in February. These funds will provide approximately $450 per student to school districts offering in-person instruction and will be weighted for districts serving students from low-income families, English learners and foster youth.

2)    Safety & Mitigation. To ensure health and safety in the classroom, the Plan focuses on the implementation of safety measures:

  • Testing. Frequent COVID-19 testing for all school staff and students, including weekly testing at schools in communities with high rates of transmission. For example, any public school can be on-boarded to the state-owned Valencia Branch Lab for PCR tests at one-third the market rate and the State will establish a hotline to help schools implement testing.
  • PPE. All staff and students in schools will be required to wear masks. The Plan recommends surgical masks for school staff, and the state will distribute millions of surgical masks to schools at no cost. The state has also enabled schools to leverage state-negotiated master contracts for PPE to reduce costs and streamline supply chains.
  • Contact Tracing. Schools will continue to be on-boarded onto the School Portal for Outbreak Tracking (SPOT) to improve collaboration between school and health officials, and members of the state contact-tracing workforce will be deployed to improve communication with schools.
  • Vaccinations. School staff will receive priority in the distribution of vaccines through the spring of 2021.

3)    Oversight & Assistance. The Safe Schools for All Team, a cross-agency team composed of dedicated staff from CDPH, Cal/OSHA, and educational agencies will provide support to help schools develop and implement their COVID-19 Safety Plans. These supports include school visits and walk-throughs as warranted, webinars and training materials, and ongoing technical assistance.

4)    Transparency & Accountability. A state dashboard will enable all Californians to see their school’s reopening status, level of available funding, and data on in-school transmissions. Additionally, there will be a web-based “hotline” for school staff and parents to report concerns to the Safe Schools for All Team. The Team will have the ability to provide escalating levels of intervention, starting with technical assistance and ending with legal enforcement.

The Governor’s plan requires legislative approval. Liebert Cassidy Whitmore will continue to monitor the state’s efforts to reopen schools and other changes regarding COVID-19 legal requirements and safety measures.

[1] Distance learning will still be available for parents and students who choose this option and for students with underlying conditions.

[2] CDPH asserts that this approach recognizes that younger children are at a lower risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 when proper safety measures are in place.