Schools pondering education overhaul for fall

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond is calling for funding from the federal government in order for schools to reopen safely due to the added costs of social distancing because of COVID-19.

Thurmond held a virtual discussion with educators on Thursday morning where he said schools need more money to ensure safety measures are followed. He said he shares concerns of teachers and superintendents who are worried about the nearly $7 billion in cuts from education in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised COVID-19 budget. The budget has yet to be passed by the state legislature.

“We hear you loud and clear and we agree with you, we cannot ask schools to do more with less,” Thurmond said. “We’re working with the governor and the legislature on how we balance out the needs of the state budget. Clearly we need support from the federal government.”

Teachers and superintendents echoed that call and said they also need money from the state’s rainy day fund.

“It takes a village to educate a child,” Erika Jones, a teacher, said. “Right now we should be looking at how we uplift and support that village knowing our kids have been thru so much.”

The safety of students is a top priority, but many questions remain about reopening schools. There’s a possibility kids may have to wear masks in schools, though that may be difficult for smaller children or those with health problems. Instead of layoff, teachers talked about the importance of having a nurse and counselor in every school and more custodians.

“I really don't even know if the two custodians who work at the school I work could keep up with the demand of constantly sanitizing a school,” said Ben Valdepena, a custodian and president of the California School Employees Association.

Educators said distance learning is not sustainable long term. Most agree they want school to reopen, but what that will look like remains a work in progress. There is talk of outdoor classes, different seating configurations, smaller class sizes, and a hybrid of at-school and distance learning with grade levels staggered.

“This August we want to get back to schools and we want to go back safely,” Cindy Marten, a superintendent in San Diego, said. “We want to open for families everyday becuase that's the only way our parents can get back to work.”

Thurmond said he is working with the California Department of Public Health on guidelines for schools. He expects to release those guidelines in the coming days to weeks.