Calif. official: School districts will ‘make their own decisions’ on reopening

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SAN DIEGO — As California school districts begin exploring when to reopen campuses, the state’s top educator said Wednesday that decision ultimately will fall to individual districts to decide.

“There will not be a common opening,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said. “Rather, school districts will make their own decisions about when they open.”

Some districts in the state already are planning to open as early as June. Most in San Diego are eyeing a period of between late August and early September, that is if they’re able to implement safety guidelines, which include social distancing, wearing masks and a vigorous cleaning regimen.

But the new guidelines ensure that when campuses reopen, they certainly will look a little different.

“Students and staff will have to wear masks,” Thurmond said. “It’s also believed we will have to sanitize schools every day ⁠— sometimes, multiple times a day. It is believed that it’s likely we will have to have smaller class sizes to accommodate students maintaining 6 feet apart distance during school.”

That plan also includes having a nurse at every school, which Thurmond said was “critical.”

San Diego Unified School Board Vice President Richard Barrera said the plan for the state’s second-largest district already is in place. The district’s schools essentially are ready to welcome back roughly 121,000 students to classrooms this fall, he said.

“The reality is our kids need to be back in school and the parents need the students back in school,” Barrera said.

But the big hurdle for many districts now is the budget. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently said he plans to cut 20% of the state’s education funding, part of a series of deep cuts to help close a more than $54 billion budget deficit brought on by COVID-19. That could be problematic for districts that already were cash-strapped before the pandemic.

Barrera said implementing state health orders won’t be possible at San Diego Unified without federal funding.

“In order for school to open safely, which is necessary for the economy to reopen, the resources have got to come, to allow us to safely meet the health guidelines,” he said. “If they don’t, we will not reopen.”

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