On Tuesday (June 16, 2020), the Assembly Education Committee held an informational hearing on the reopening of schools for the 2020-21 school year. Spanning nearly three-and-a-half hours, with over an hour alone spent on public comment from concerned parents and equity groups, panels focused on the health and safety of students and staff, teaching and learning in the upcoming school year, and the provision of necessary student services, like student mental health, school meals, and after school programs. Members heard testimony from State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) Tony Thurmond and State Board of Education (SBE) President Linda Darling-Hammond, as well as representatives from the California School Employees Association, the Association of California School Administrators, and the California State PTA. Notably missing from a hearing on the potential restarting of in-classroom instruction was a representative from the California Teachers Association.
Not surprisingly, the California Department of Education’s (CDE) recently released guidebook on the reopening of schools served as the foundation for much of Tuesday’s discussion. When asked by Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino), who was in attendance as Chair of the Senate Education Committee, whether he felt the guidance was sufficient, SPI Thurmond acknowledged that the current guidance is based on the best knowledge currently available, and that it is very much a living document that will change as more information becomes available. However, this acknowledgment of the ever-changing nature of the document did not stop multiple social justice and equity groups, during public comment, from expressing concern about the lack of concrete requirements within the guidance and urging CDE to establish minimum standards for what schools must do when reopening. One panelist also noted that the recommendations in CDE’s guidance sometimes conflicted with the guidance that had been released by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) a few days prior to CDE’s, and that additional reconciliation would be needed to avoid confusion. In related news, our friends at Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo (AALRR) also released an Alert on Tuesday regarding the legal implications of the CDE/CDPH Guidance, which is available here.
However, discussions focused as much on what was included in CDE’s guidance as what was not. A number of members expressed concern about the need to look at not only at how learning will be conducted come fall but also how to address liability concerns, something on which CDE’s guidance does not touch. Assembly Member Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), the Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, made it a point to remind SBE President Darling-Hammond of this fact and encouraged her to raise the issue with others in the Administration. With budget negotiations between the Legislative leadership and the Governor still ongoing, the question of how schools are expected to cover the costs of implementing all the recommended precautions also loomed large over the hearing. Citing reports that the Governor is still pushing for upfront cuts to K-12 education, Assembly Member Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), Chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance, questioned the practicality of such cuts in a time where schools are being asked to do more than ever.
The subject of schools reopening has also been a recent topic of discussion on the federal level. In the past week, both the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee have held hearings on the challenges associated with reopening schools during the ongoing pandemic. Like with Tuesday’s state-level hearing, the issue of the cost of schools reopening with additional health and safety precautions and the need for additional, immediate federal relief for schools, was a common theme throughout the hearings.
While only an informational hearing, it is clear that Tuesday’s proceedings were just the start of this discussion in the Legislature. Assembly Member O’Donnell’s concluding remarks only highlighted the uncertainties surrounding this upcoming school year, noting, “More work to be done, it’s work we don’t even know we’ll have to do.” We will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available and as these discussions continue in the Legislature.
- Posted by CCIS
- On June 16, 2020