In a presentation on Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom addressed the question plaguing every parent whose children have been stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic: When will schools reopen?
His answer is likely to disappoint many families, although perhaps not surprise them.
The governor sought to reassure constituents that stay-at-home and social distancing orders “will not be a permanent state.” But he also explained that, until officials feel confident that the rate of new infections is falling and health care infrastructure has strengthened, restrictions on normal activities, including going to school, will continue.
That means, Newsom said, “this school year for all intents and purposes is over.”
What may startle some families, though, are details the governor offered about how schools may look, feel and operate differently when the time does come for them to reopen, perhaps in the summer or in the fall.
Schools have a responsibility to keep kids educated and to care for children’s mental health—and that of their parents, too, Newsom acknowledged. Yet state officials and school leaders will need to be “very vigilant” about preventing students from getting infected in the classroom and carrying germs back home to their families and caregivers.
Indeed, one of the criteria the governor plans to use to determine when it’s safe to modify the state’s stay-at-home order is assessing whether schools and child care facilities can support physical distancing.
That could mean changing everything, from the layout of the school cafeteria to gym class and recess policies, Newsom said. One idea the governor mentioned more than once involves cutting class sizes and asking students to come to school at different times.
“We could conceivably stagger individual students to come in as cohorts in the morning and others in the afternoons,” Newsom said. “Those are the conversations we’re already having. Assemblies, PE, recess, how you provide meals, all of those things would have to be reconsidered.”
When they reopen, schools, playgrounds and other public spaces will also “need massive deep cleaning,” the governor added.
California was one of the first U.S. states to put strict pandemic-response policies in place, and its governor is now one of the first top U.S. officials to address specific terms about reopening schools in the future. His plans have the potential to influence students, teachers and families outside of California, since this week the state announced plans to join with Oregon and Washington to “work together on a shared approach” for tackling the pandemic while reopening the economy of the West Coast.
Gov. Newsom said he would not provide a timeline for when prohibitions on gatherings might be lifted for at least two more weeks.