California officials Thursday ordered schools statewide to begin reporting new coronavirus cases within 24 hours and their reopening status every two weeks as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s broader effort to spur a return of kids to the classroom.
That effort marks a change from last summer when the state was encouraging schools to start the new school year in online-only “distance learning” and had no plans to comprehensively track school cases or reopening. Districts and teacher unions have cited a lack of information about school outbreaks and reopenings as a concern. The infection information is to be reported to the state effective immediately and the reopening status starting Jan. 25, but it was unclear how much would be publicly available and when.
“Getting our kids and staff back into the classroom safely will help us continue turning the corner on this pandemic,” Newsom said in a statement.
The governor has been caught between the logistical concerns of school administrators, the health and safety fears of teachers and the worries of countless parents about their children’s education and mental health suffering from sub-par online-only instruction.
Parents pleas to reopen schools have grown louder amid mounting evidence that schools aren’t fueling outbreaks and that online teaching is failing kids and contributing to educational disparities as private schools reopen while public schools remain shut.
Late last month, Newsom announced a $2 billion Safe Schools for All Plan aimed at satisfying administration, teacher and parent concerns, promising guidance and resources for administrators and safety and transparency rules to allay teacher worries. But the few details provided only raised new questions.
On Thursday, the state’s “Safe Schools for All Hub” went online as a platform that eventually will provide links detailing the reopening status of schools statewide as well as case and outbreak information, something the state resisted last year.
Thursday’s order requires every district, charter and private school to report to local health authorities within 24 hours any COVID-19-positive test result of a student or employee who was on campus within 10 days prior to the test sample being taken.
The order is intended to let state health officials more comprehensively monitor infections among school staff and students and provide help. But it was unclear Thursday how much of that information would be reported publicly through the website. Schools have reported case information individually but there has been no tracking and disclosure statewide.
The state also ordered all schools beginning Jan. 25 to report to the state whether they are providing full or partial in-person instruction or online only. State officials plan to make that information publicly available on the Safe Schools For All Hub website.
More than a dozen other states including Texas, New York and Florida report coronavirus cases statewide, and Emily Oster, an economics professor at Brown University who has been tracking school cases nationally through the explaincovid.org data website, said California’s latest step is encouraging.
“I think this kind of visible report is extremely helpful for generating trust, so I’m very happy to see California doing this,” Oster said. “I look forward to seeing the case data when it is reported out.”
Contributed by local news sources