California Gov. Newsom to give school guidance during pandemic

Students from Oakland Tech call each other on Zoom to stay connected during the shelter-in-place. March 17, 2020

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday intends to announce COVID-19 guidance for schools as some campuses have already resumed learning and most others are less than a month away from resuming class.

His announcement will come a day after state Sen. Steve Glazer held a town hall meeting on Thursday imploring state leaders for some more direction on whether it is safe for schools to open in person or not. 

Some of the major districts, including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland, have already announced they will begin school virtually, as teachers and parents have expressed fears about physically going back to campuses and risking further spread of coronavirus. 

With three weeks until some districts go back to school, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said he expected more districts to announce plans for distance learning, amid a surge of new cases in many parts of the state.

“In any place where there is uncertainty, we should proceed with caution. In many cases, that’s going to be opening in distance learning,” Thurmond said in a weekly media briefing held online.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all template for reopening schools, and classroom learning can still happen in counties or districts where it can be done safely, he said.

Many small, rural communities argue they shouldn’t have to comply with the same rules as big cities, where infection rates are higher, and Thurmond indicated Wednesday he agreed.

“We have some counties in this state where the number of cases is actually quite low,” he said. “Schools in those counties will actually be able to open and, if they’re following the guidance that our experts have provided — hand washing, 6 feet of spacing, maintaining physical distance and of course, everyone wearing a face covering — we believe that those schools can open safely.”

On Thursday, Thurmond said his department is doing its best to provide clarity to school districts and provide distance-learning standards, but he acknowledged:  "This is the toughest experience that most of us will experience in our lifetime." 

For Thurmond, the top priorities on his mind as he works to help California's 6 million public school students are: Keeping campuses safe, ensuring students' emotional well-being and providing good standards for distance learning.

"Remote learning is the way we are learning for now," Thurmond said, "and we have to make it stronger and have to address equity issues." 

There are indeed equity issues to be dealt with. 

A digital divide map compiled by Oakland's EdTrust shows there are wide inequities in technology access.

Nationally, about 17% of children cannot finish their homework because of limited internet access. In California, about 1 in 6 school-aged children lack access to the internet at home. 

EdTrust officials note that these disparities on learning have been brought into sharper focus as schools and districts across the state grapple with the COVID-19 crisis. 

The nonprofit conducted a parent poll showing that 38% of low-income families and 29% of families of color are concerned about access to distance learning because they don’t have reliable internet at home. 

Also, 50% of low-income and 42% of families of color told EdTrust that they lack sufficient devices at home to access distance learning.  

Thurmond also acknowledged this week that "hundreds of thousands" of California students do not have adequate WiFi and computer access at home. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez