California lawmakers reach $6.5 billion deal to open schools

California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California legislators have agreed on a $6.5 billion school reopening plan aimed at getting students back in classrooms this spring.

The plan would require county public health departments to offer vaccinations to school staff who return to in-person classes. It would also require schools seeking funding to reopen starting April 15 to vulnerable students and those in lower grades

That includes English learners, homeless students, those without computers and foster children.

The new plan additionally requires schools to develop and make public a COVID-19 safety plan by April 1.

The proposed “Safe and Open Schools” plan would overhaul a $2 billion proposal from Gov. Gavin Newsom that was widely criticized by school superintendents, unions and lawmakers.

Superintendents from six major districts in the state, including San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten, called the proposal “a step in the right direction.”

“These clear guidelines from the state will help reopen schools in the safest way possible,” district leaders said in a joint statement. “In addition to ensuring appropriate health measures at schools and underscoring the need to control community spread of the virus, the proposed action recognizes the critical role vaccinations for all school staff play in creating the safest possible school environment.”

Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego, said the state is facing two truths: that students “need to get back in the classroom, and there is no easy solution to getting them there in the midst of the pandemic.”

“These bills move us closer, and build on the Governor’s framework based on feedback that we’ve heard from parents, students, and school employees, including teachers,” Atkins said. “They keep the conversation going, both in the Legislature and with the Governor. We all share the same goal—to get students back into school safely.

“Schools provide more than just academics—they lend the kind of supports and social interaction that kids have been lacking during this pandemic.”

Last week, Newsom’s office unveiled a new interactive map for parents to monitor the status of school districts, charter schools and private schools across the state. Upon rolling out his school reopening plan in December, Newsom said resuming in-person instruction is “critical for kids, families, and communities throughout the state.”

San Diego County now has five vaccine super stations and 15 smaller neighborhood distribution sites according to the county Health and Human Services Agency.

Despite the supply-chain problems, San Diego County Supervisor Fletcher said the county has allocated its vaccines efficiently enough that he believes teachers — along with food and agriculture workers and law enforcement officers — will be able to begin receiving vaccines by as soon as the first week of March.

Additionally, the HHSA anticipates it will complete vaccinations in the county’s skilled nursing facilities this week, freeing up mobile teams to provide more shots around the county. In total, around 17.6% of the county’s population over the age of 16 have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 5% are fully inoculated.

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