California Governor Gavin Newsom Announces Criteria for School Reopenings

COVID-19 Update

Most California Schools Expected to Start Remotely

On Friday, July 17, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced criteria for permitting public and private K-12 schools in the state to reopen given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the guidelines, it appears that most K-12 schools in California will not be able to reopen for in-person instruction in the fall.

In-Person Instruction in a School District

School districts that are within a jurisdiction (e.g., a county) that has been on the state’s monitoring list “must conduct distance learning only” until their jurisdiction is off the monitoring list for 14 consecutive days. Governor Newsom reported that 31 of the state’s 58 counties—encompassing more than 70% of the state’s population—were on the state’s monitoring list at the time of his announcement.

School districts are permitted to reopen for in-person instruction in any jurisdiction that has not been on the monitoring list within the prior 14 days, provided they also satisfy public health guidance to combat the spread of the virus.

For districts that are ineligible to reopen, the counties in which they are located would need to meet COVID-19 metrics that show progress against the virus for 14 days before they could begin reopening schools. These metrics include the number of cases and hospitalization rates, as well as available hospital capacity. Once a county had met these thresholds, the local school district(s) would be eligible to reopen under the state’s guidance. But, the ultimate decision to reopen will also be up to individual local districts and relevant Health Officers.

Districts are not to remain open if COVID-19 cases begin to spike. Specifically, the guidance indicates that a “superintendent should close a school district if 25% or more of schools in a district have closed due to COVID-19 within 14 days, and in consultation with the local public health department.” Similar to individual schools (discussed below), a district closed temporarily would be eligible to reopen after 14 days.

Safety Protocols

When school districts are preparing to reopen, they will need to comply with state CDPH guidance on safety protocols. Similar to guidance for other sectors, these protocols include development of a site-specific plan, establishing handwashing and cleaning procedures, and requiring physical distancing and facial coverings. For example, state guidance requires facial coverings for teachers, staff and all students beginning in third grade. Face coverings are encouraged for students age 2 through second grade, and are not required for those under 2 years of age.

Temporary Closures of Classrooms or Schools

Governor Newsom’s guidance also provides procedures for temporary closure of classrooms or individual schools where there are or appear to be substantial new COVID-19 infections. These procedures include cleaning and disinfection of classrooms or other areas used by individuals who test positive for the virus, as well as potential broader closings as recommended by local Health Officers.

Specifically, the guidance recommends potential temporary closures be based on “the number of cases, the percentage of the teacher[s]/students/staff that are positive for COVID-19, and … consultation with the Local Health Officer.” As a guideline, the state recommends but does not require the following:

Individual school closure may be appropriate when there are multiple cases in multiple cohorts at a school or when at least 5 percent of the total number of teachers/student[s]/staff are cases within a 14-day period, depending on the size and physical layout of the school.

For individual schools that are temporarily closed, the guidance provides that such a school may typically reopen after 14 days subject to the following having occurred:

  • Cleaning and disinfection
  • Public health investigation
  • Consultation with the local public health department
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