‘It’s traumatic’: State’s top educator shares how schools will address pandemic, racial justice

California

SAN DIEGO — California’s top educator, Superintendent Tony Thurmond, is facing down the challenge of reopening school campuses in a state still gripped by the coronavirus pandemic and widespread protests over the killing of George Floyd.

“The reality is, it’s traumatic,” Thurmond said. “We’re all being impacted by trauma, and I’m talking right now with mental health leaders across the state about how to provide more counseling support in our schools, and support to families and teachers on how to address trauma.”

That will include classroom discussions about race and bias, issues at the core of demonstrations held up and down the state in recent weeks.

“We need to talk openly about race in this country, and about implicit bias,” Thurmond told FOX 5. “People are telling us they’re hurting.”

Thurmond says school districts will need to prepare educators for handling difficult questions from students and addressing them in an age-appropriate way. This will include guidelines and suggestions from the state, which is gathering input from an array of sources, Thurmond said.

The California Department of Education created an email address — createracialjustice@gmail.com — where people can send proposals for implicit bias training.

At the same time, Thurmond is juggling the challenge of reopening school campuses safely during the coronavirus pandemic. The superintendent said his department is still targeting August and September for the start of optional, in-person classes, though he also said that districts will prepare options for families who prefer to keep their kids at home with distance-learning.

“School will look different,” Thurmond said. “Students will be asked to wear a face-covering, to wear a mask. Staff will be asked to wear a mask … and (maintain) physical distance.”

The superintendent acknowledged that students with developmental disabilities may not be able to tolerate wearing a mask all day, and he said that schools are exploring flexible alternatives for special education classrooms, such as clear face-coverings or simply issuing an exemption.

More detailed guidance will be published on the department’s website soon, the superintendent said.

Watch Thurmond’s full interview on the FOX 5 Morning News in the video player above.

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