California educators: Expect ‘hybrid’ classrooms in the fall

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The California schools superintendent said Wednesday he expects school for the state’s 6 million students to resume as usual in late August or September but with classes that look radically different to maintain social distancing standards.

Superintendent Tony Thurmond said he expects a mix of in-person and distance learning with fewer children in classes, hallways and other common areas as campuses try to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Students will likely wear masks, as will teachers and staff.

University of California President Janet Napolitano gave a similar forecast Wednesday for how the system’s 10 campuses may look come fall, telling a Board of Regents meeting she expects “most if not all of our campuses will operate in some kind of hybrid mode.” Campuses are still making decisions on their fall scenarios, which may be finalized in June, she said.

News that K-12 school districts were planning to open as usual in late summer is likely a relief to parents, although the changes required to welcome back students appear daunting. Thurmond said there’s no way schools can open safely without enough masks, sanitizer and wash stations.

He made his remarks in advance of a virtual meeting Thursday with representatives of 1,000 districts to talk about “what schools are thinking they’ll have to do in terms of how they arrange students, how they arrange personnel and how they utilize a maximum amount of personal protective equipment to keep our schools safe and sanitized.”

Thurmond said school leaders have told his department that some parents want distance learning to continue.

Schools and universities have been closed since mid-March, when the governor issued a statewide stay-at-home order.

The pandemic has punched a hole in California’s budget, leading Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to propose $14 billion in budget cuts because of the coronavirus, with more than half coming at the expense of public schools.

In response, the superintendents of six California urban districts with a total of more than 900,000 students wrote to legislative leaders to say they need more money, not less, to operate schools safely amid the outbreak.

“Cuts will mean that the reopening of schools will be delayed even after state guidance and clearance from public health officials is given,” the letter said.

Similarly, the University of California system is estimating financial losses of nearly $1.2 billion from mid-March through April across its campuses. Compounding the losses, Newsom’s revised cuts include a a 10% funding reduction of $372 million for 2020-2021.

At a bimonthly regents meeting held remotely Wednesday, UC’s board approved standards that each campus must meet before ramping up in-person operations. They include screening and testing, contact tracing, “universal masking measures,” physical distancing and plans for how to quarantine and isolate anyone who contracts the virus, Napolitano said.

“Once campuses have incorporated these principles, campuses will plan for remaining fully remote in the fall or returning to campus,” she said.

Unlike the UC, the California State University system, the country’s largest four-year public university system, has announced it will hold most fall classes online and leave classrooms closed. Chancellor Timothy White said the closure of CSU’s 23 campuses is necessary because of the unknowns about the pandemic and how it will play out in the coming months.

The vast majority of people recover after contracting the coronavirus. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.