A group of state officials and representatives of multiple Bay Area school districts held a virtual discussion Thursday on how to safely resume in-person education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-Orinda, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond joined the superintendents of the Pittsburg, Lafayette and Livermore unified school districts to discuss how the pandemic will affect the fall semester and how to keep teachers, students and their families safe.
Thurmond said the state will collaborate with individual school districts to determine their reopening plans but will defer to each district if they feel continuing classes online is the safest route to take.
“I’m a former school board member; I care deeply about local decision-making and the way things have been set up is that local boards and superintendents make decisions informed by local county health officers,” Thurmond said.
At least to start the semester, Thurmond said the state is advising school districts to continue with distance learning like they ended the spring semester.
“We’re living in this pandemic in real time and I know that we are all working very hard to try to make good choices about health and about safety.”Sen. Steve Glazer
School districts across the state have also appealed to both the state and private industry to help address the “digital divide,” of students who don’t have access to reliable internet service or a computer at home.
Pittsburg Unified School District Superintendent Janet Schulze said the district placed emergency orders earlier this year to acquire “significant numbers” of Google Chromebooks that students could check out and use to attend classes at home.
Schulze also estimated that about 15 percent of students were not completely engaged in distance learning during the spring semester.
“That was very concerning,” she said. “We had multiple efforts in terms of reaching out to families and trying to do some home visits as well to make sure that we could connect with all of our families, including our homeless and our foster youth families as well.”
Thurmond also took a shot at President Donald Trump’s recent threats to essentially hold federal education funding hostage unless schools reopen for in-person classes for the fall semester.
“With all due respect to the president’s comments, I think now is the time for caution, now’s the time for safety, not inflammatory remarks,” he said. “I just have to call it what it is — it’s dangerous, it’s reckless and it’s immoral to threaten to cut funding for schools.”
Thurmond said he has asked the state’s Department of Public Health to create a rubric or metric of some kind that school districts can monitor that will tell them when to suspend in-person classes and resume at-home instruction.
The state Department of Education has also arranged for a meeting with all of the state’s districts and the California Department of Public Health to clarify the state’s guidance about reopening schools.
“I think we feel your angst, your stress, your worry in terms of what’s happening right now,” Glazer said. “We’re living in this pandemic in real time and I know that we are all working very hard to try to make good choices about health and about safety.”