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In This Moment (7/23): Reopening K-12 Schools and CSU Ethnic Studies

July 23, 2020

K-12 districts continue to plan for fall in light of the Governor’s recent announcement that schools in counties on the state’s monitoring list will not be allowed to provide in-person instruction. These schools will be able to resume in-person instruction once their county is removed from the monitoring list for 14 consecutive days.

Also this week, the California State University (CSU) Trustees approved the addition of an ethnic studies course as a college graduation requirement. However, their action is not supported by the California Faculty Association and several legislators who continue to push for a more defined ethnic studies requirement aligned with Assembly Bill (AB) 1460 (Weber). Assemblymember Weber’s bill would require enthic studies courses at CSU campuses and is currently working its way through the legislative process. Notably, if AB 1460 is ultimately signed by the Governor, it will take precedence over the CSU Trustees’ recent action.

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Distance Learning Only Option for Many California Schools

Last week, Governor Newsom announced that California public and private schools in counties on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list will not be allowed to offer in-person instruction or a hybrid model that combines in-person instruction and distance learning. Schools in counties on the monitoring list must begin the school year with distance learning only and cannot open for in-person instruction until the school’s county is off the monitoring list for 14 consecutive days. More detail about the new reopening requirements can be found here.

Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) in counties that are not on the state monitoring list retain the discretion to begin the school year in accordance with the instructional models laid out in Senate Bill (SB) 98, including in-person learning, distance learning, or a hybrid model.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) also issued new industry guidance outlining updated recommendations and requirements for masks, physical distancing, testing, and contract tracing. During in-person instruction, the administration is mandating all staff and students in grades 3-12 wear masks. Students in grades K-2 are strongly encouraged to also wear masks, though the administration acknowledges that this could be challenging for younger students.

Guidance from the administration recommends that districts consult with public health officials prior to reopening schools. Districts should also develop a protocol for when a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19. These protocols should include the following:

  • A classroom cohort must stop in-person instruction if there is a confirmed case within the cohort
  • A school must stop in-person instruction if multiple cohorts within the school have confirmed cases or once more than 5% of the school’s population has tested positive
  • A school district must stop in-person instruction if 25% of their schools are closed within a 14-day period

Schools may reopen after 14 days and the following have occurred:

  • Cleaning and disinfection
  • Public health investigation
  • Consultation with the local public health department

Further details on CDPH county monitoring criteria can be found here, and county data charts can be found here.

Ethnic Studies Requirement Approved by CSU Board

The CSU Board of Trustees voted this week to add a course in ethnic studies or with a social justice component to the general education undergraduate graduation requirement. The new requirement passed by a 13-5 vote, and with opposition from university faculty and many state legislators who continue to push for a more defined ethnic studies requirement aligned to AB 1460 (Weber).

CSU Trustees supporting the new graduation requirement believe that decisions related to graduation requirements should be left to the CSU Board, rather than the Legislature. Prior to the Board of Trustees vote, 20 members of the Legislature sent a letter to outgoing Chancellor Timothy White asking for the item to be pulled from the agenda, arguing the CSU proposal “does not respond to the challenges we currently face, has been rejected by the faculty, and is not supported by students.” EdSource reported that advocates for making a course in ethnic studies a graduation requirement believe, “...the changes proposed by the Chancellor’s office will significantly water down the intent of AB 1460 and will result in something akin to a ‘diversity’ requirement, which was not developed in collaboration with the CSU Council on Ethnic Studies.”

AB 1460, which has wider support from faculty and several lawmakers, would require CSU to provide courses in ethnic studies at each of its 23 campuses as a three-unit undergraduate graduation requirement beginning with students graduating in the 2024-25 academic year. The bill has only one more hurdle to clear once the Legislature returns from an extended summer recess before landing on the Governor’s desk. If Governor Newsom signs AB 1460, it would supersede the action taken by the CSU Trustees.