Fiscal Report
Public Education's Point of Reference for Making Educated Decisions

Governor Proposes Reopening Schools This Summer

At his daily press briefing on Tuesday, April 28, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom expressed cautious optimism that the state is weeks (not months) away from making meaningful modifications to the statewide stay-at-home order and floated the idea of physically reopening schools in late July or early August for an extended 2020–21 school year to make up for the “learning loss” caused by school closures. 

The Governor made these comments as he unveiled the following four stage roadmap for how California will gradually reopen its schools, businesses, and economy: 

  • Stage 1: This is the stage that we are currently in where the state continues to build out testing, contact tracing, personal protective equipment, and hospital surge capacity. The focus of this phase is to make essential workplaces as safe as possible and to prepare sector-by-sector safety guidelines for an expansion of the workforce in future stages.  
  • Stage 2: The state gradually opens certain lower risk workplaces with adaptations—including schools, childcare facilities, retail (e.g. curbside pickup), manufacturing, offices (when telework is not possible), and other public spaces such as parks and trails. 
  • Stage 3: Allow higher-risk workplaces to open, such as gyms, nail and hair salons, movie theaters, sports venues (without live audiences), and churches.
  • Stage 4: The Governor officially ends the stay-at-home order and includes a broad reopening of the highest-risk workplaces including concerts, convention centers, and live-audience sports.

This announcement comes two weeks after the Governor unveiled the six key indicators that are guiding his Administration’s thinking for when and how to modify the stay-at-home order. At Tuesday’s briefing, Governor Newsom emphasized that childcare facilities and schools are foundational in getting people back to work and that is why they are included among businesses in the fifth indicator, which reads “the ability for businesses, schools, and child care facilities to support physical distancing.” 

It is encouraging that the Newsom Administration is becoming increasingly optimistic about schools physically reopening their doors within the next several months, but there are a number of implications to consider and additional resources that will be required in order to reopen schools under the vision that has been offered by the Governor (see “Governor Newsom Offers Vision of How Schools Could Physically Reopen in 2020” in the April 2020 Fiscal Report). 

State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI) Tony Thurmond raised some of these considerations yesterday in a press release responding to the Governor’s remarks:

If this is going to work, there are some major questions we will have to answer. First and foremost: Can this be done in a way that protects the health and safety of our students, teachers, and school staff? 

We also must consider the fiscal implications. Social distancing in schools may require smaller class sizes, but schools are going to need additional resources to make it happen—including the possibility of hiring more teachers. Additionally, teachers and school staff will need personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies so that our schools are sanitized. We expect that some form of social distancing will be with us through the summer, so if we start school early, we need resources to make it a reality. 

The SSPI has convened a task force to explore these and other considerations for the upcoming 2020–21 school year. The Task Force on Re-opening Schools includes the Governor’s Office, superintendents from around the state, the State Board of Education, the California Office of Emergency Services, the Department of Finance, California Health and Human Services, and labor organizations. 

For now there seem to be more questions than answers as to the logistics of schools physically reopening their doors. In addition to the Governor and the SSPI’s task force, the Legislature will also play a role in these discussions when they return from recess next month. We will continue to keep you apprised of these conversations as they unfold over the coming weeks.