Schools across the state should plan on teaching from afar for the rest of the academic year, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.
“The right thing to do for our children, the right thing to do for the parents, for households, for the community which they reside, is to make sure that we are preparing today to set our school system up where we are increasing class time, but increasing it at home,” Newsom said.
No Change Yet to Local Closure Schedules
Many are interpreting Newsom’s statement as confirming that schools will stay closed at least until summer.
“Governor Newsom made a difficult, but necessary decision to close schools for the remainder of the school year,” said Fresno Teachers Association president Manual Bonilla in a news release.
Bonilla added, “although schools are physically closed, we will continue to provide learning opportunities to our students via distance learning platforms.”
But local school district officials have not changed their official positions on closures at this point. Fresno Unified and Central Unified have both said their schools would not reopen until at least May 4. A Fresno Unified spokesperson said trustees are scheduled to discuss the latest developments Wednesday night.
Clovis Unified’s closure is currently scheduled through April 13, but district spokeswoman Kelly Avants said the school board will consider an extension through May 1 at its Wednesday night meeting.
“We recognize that, dependent on the state of this current community health concern, we may have to extend even past that date,” Avants said, “but with the situation changing so rapidly around the nation, we also feel that it’s premature to extend that date through the end of the year.”
She said the district is consulting with the Fresno County Department of Public Health.
“We have confirmed that the decision about opening or closing campuses remains a local one,” Avants said.
Valley Congressman Says Closure is ‘Overkill’
Newsom’s comments followed guidance given to districts Tuesday night by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.
“Due to the current safety concerns and needs for ongoing social distancing, it appears that our students will not be able to return to school campuses before the end of the school year,” Thurmond wrote in a letter to California’s 58 county superintendents of schools.
But Tulare Congressman Devin Nunes criticized the state’s guidance in an interview on Fox News.
“The schools were just canceled out here in California, which is way overkill,” Nunes said. “It’s possible kids could have gone back to school in two weeks to four weeks, but they just canceled the rest of the schools.”
Virginia, Kansas, and Arizona already closed schools for the rest of the year.
The statements by Thurmond and Newsom are not mandates, said Troy Flint, spokesman for the California School Boards Association. But they give school districts the cover to do what many already felt was necessary, Flint said.
Flint said Thurmond’s letter gives districts the “security they feel they need to make a decision and explain that to their communities.”
Districts Struggle to Deliver At-Home Learning
Still, many districts, teachers, and students are struggling to adapt to at-home learning, particularly in rural areas where access to wireless internet can be sparse. Google announced Wednesday it will give free Wi-Fi to 100,000 rural households and provide 4,000 Chromebooks to students in need. The Wi-Fi will be delivered through mobile hot spots provided by T-Mobile.
Linda Darling-Hammond, president of California’s State Board of Education, said roughly 20% of California students lacked internet access at home when schools closed several weeks ago. Districts have found resources to cut that by half.
“We need more Googles,” Newsom said. “We still have a little bit more coverage that we’re going to need in some of the more remote parts of the state.”
‘Community Lift’ Required to Address Teaching Challenges
“This is a community lift,” FTA’s Bonilla said, “and will take effort from district leadership, educators, and the community to give the best possible learning opportunities while simultaneously addressing technology, internet access, and other inequities as they arise.”
Newsom, the father of four children 10 and under, thanked women — moms and teachers, in particular — for bearing the brunt of coping with the new reality of children being at home rather than at school.
“There’s a gender reality connected to this, and I just want to go deeply to express an appreciation to all of the moms, all those teachers, all those caregivers. I know how stressful this is. Trust me, I know,” he said.
(Associated Press contributed to this story.)