Quick Guide: What California parents and students should know about the coronavirus | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools

Photo: Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle/Polaris

This Q & A is being updated to reflect latest developments. It was last updated Sept. 11 at 6 p.m.

Q: What challenges do schools face to delivering online learning to all students? 

A: One of the biggest challenges to switching to distance learning for many districts has been little to no access to computers or internet at home.

California needs more than 700,000 laptops and 300,000 Wi-Fi hotspots to connect all students to the internet from home, according to recent estimates from the California Department of Education.

To fill those gaps, the California Department of Education launched a statewide task force focused on connecting students with technology at home and created the California Bridging the Digital Divide Fund to collect donations of funds and technology to students in preschool through 12th grade. Individual contributions can be made through the GoFundMe campaign. Institutional and corporate donors are invited to contact Mary Nicely at mnicely@cde.ca.gov.

The California state budget also includes $5.3 billion in “Learning Loss Mitigation Funding” that school districts can apply for to help pay for distance learning and strategies to help students overcome learning loss.

Q: When can schools open for in-person instruction? 

A: Gov. Newsom issued new guidance on Aug. 28 that changed the way the state monitors counties to determine when schools can open for in-person instruction. He introduced a four-tiered, color-coded system that tracks counties by the number of new Covid-19 cases per day and the percentage of positive cases out of the total tests averaged over seven days. 

Purple, or Tier 1, indicates that the virus is widespread in the county and public and private schools cannot reopen for in-person instruction unless they receive an elementary waiver for students in grades K-6 or are following guidance for small groups of children, known as “cohorts.” Red (Tier 2) indicates “substantial” spread of the virus, while orange (Tier 3) indicates “moderate” spread and yellow (Tier 4) indicates “minimal” spread of the virus in the county.

Counties that move from purple to red can open for in-person instruction after they have remained in the red tier for 14 days. Schools that open while their county is rated red, but then move back up to purple may remain open, but must increase Covid-19 testing for staff, according to reopening guidance released July 17. 

However, schools must close if 5% of staff and/or students have tested positive within a 14-day period, and districts must close if one-quarter of the schools in the district have closed within 14 days due to Covid-19 cases.

Q. What plans are being made for California schools to reopen?

Many districts are still in the process of finalizing plans for reopening in person based on state and county guidance, as well as state law.

This fall, schools have been told to “offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible” according to AB-77, the education trailer bill accompanying the 2020-21 budget. However, schools can only do this if they are not in counties rated purple on the four-tiered list,or if they are elementary schools that have received waivers or are following small group guidance (see above item). Schools can offer distance learning if ordered by a state or local health official, or for students who are medically at-risk or are self-quarantining because of exposure to Covid-19. Some school districts are also offering distance learning to any families that are not comfortable sending their children to campuses until a Covid-19 vaccine is widely available.

Previous guidance from the California Department of Education on June 8 recommended limiting the number of students physically on campus at the same time for in-person instruction and considering strategies such as hybrid learning models where students participate in a mix of in-person and online classes. However, as of Sept. 8, 33 counties including 681 school districts and 944 charter schools that educate a total of more than 4 million public school students were in counties rated purple, not including private schools, resulting in most schools starting the school year with distance learning.

AB-77 requires teachers to confirm that students have the necessary technology at home to participate in distance learning. Teachers participating in distance learning are expected to interact with students live daily to teach, monitor progress and maintain personal connections. The bill also instructs teachers to communicate with parents about their children’s learning progress.

Additional requirements for distance learning outlined in the trailer bill include creating procedures for re-engaging students who are absent for more than 60% of instruction per week and providing academic supports for English learners and students who have fallen behind academically. Progress can be assessed through a variety of ways including evidence of online activities, assignment completion and contact between school staff and students or their parents.

According to Department of Public Health guidance, students should expect to wash their hands and have their temperature taken often. Staff and students in grades 3-12 must wear masks and younger students are encouraged to do so. Students must remain  in small groups of classmates known as “cohorts” at all times. Signs and taped marks on the floor can be used to inform them which direction to walk in and where to stand in hallways and in the cafeteria.

Q: Since Gov. Newsom issued an executive order ordering Californians to “stay at home” in March, he has begun loosening those restrictions in phases. What does that mean for parents and children?  

A: Initially, Californians were urged to leave home only for groceries, prescriptions, exercise or other “essential” business or activities and to stay at least 6 feet apart. Newsom’s order did not specify an end date.

He released a report card on May 4 that outlined four phases for reopening some businesses that allowed individual counties to reopen some businesses with modifications based on a county monitoring list. This process was replaced by the four-tiered color-coded system effective Aug. 31.

The state released initial guidance for schools on June 5.  On June 18, the state began requiring that people wear face masks outside their homes in most settings, except for children ages 2 and under and those with certain medical conditions.

Quick Guide: What California’s color-coded county tracking system means for schools

Quick Guide: How has the pandemic altered California’s school accountability reforms?

Gov. Newsom’s “Stay at Home” Executive Order, March 19, 2020.

Gov. Newsom’s Executive Order for Closed Schools, March 13, 2020.

Guidance for Schools, California Dept. of Education.

For the latest developments in education, go here.

Q: What are schools supposed to offer parents and children in 2020-21?

A: California schools are required to provide 180 days of instruction per year (175 days for charter schools). However, the minimum number of instructional minutes have been reduced, in an effort to offer teachers more flexibility during distance learning.

Previously, the typical minimum number of instructional minutes per day was: 200 for kindergarten, 280 for grades 1 to 3; 300 for grades 4 to 8, and 360 for high school. For the 2020-21 school year, the daily requirements have dropped to 180 minutes for kindergarten, 230 for grades 1 to 3, and 240 for grades 4 to 12. However, the state is not setting requirements stating how many minutes should be “synchronous,” or live, versus “asynchronous,” or delivered via online platforms or recorded videos that are not live.

The state has created a coronavirus website at www.covid19.ca.gov with an education page that includes links to guidance for K-12 schools and colleges and universities, as well as links to other resources for families and educators. And the California Department of Education has created a Coronavirus Response and School Reopening Guidance website with numerous resources.

Q: What about grading students’ work? 

A: It is up to local districts to decide whether or not to issue grades, but most will at the very least grade students using pass/no pass or credit/no credit. Due to the coronavirus, the California State University and the University of California agreed to accept credit/no credit or pass/fail for courses taken in 2019-20, including the A-G course sequence needed for admission, with no impact to grade point averages. The California Department of Education has released guidance on grading and graduation requirements here. Here’s an EdSource Quick Guide on grading.

Q: Are teachers taking attendance in 2020-21?

A: California bases funding to schools on average daily attendance, but districts won’t lose money if some students don’t participate in distance learning. However, schools are still required to track and report student participation.

Q: Will students still be required to take the state’s standardized Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts in grades 3-8 and 11 in spring 2021? 

A: The U.S. Department of Education granted waivers to all 50 states in 2019-20, exempting them from the testing requirement. However, on Sept. 3, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sent a letter to chief state school officials informing them that states should not expect waivers in 2020-21. This means that students will likely be required to take the tests this school year.  The test data are used in the state’s school accountability system, the California School Dashboard. The previously waived tests included the Smarter Balanced and science tests that assess the Next Generation Science Standards, and the English Language Proficiency Assessments for California for English learners. More information about how Covid-19 has affected the state’s accountability requirements is here.

Q: What about Advanced Placement tests, SAT and ACT tests?

A: Shortened versions of Advanced Placement exams were administered online in May and early June. The 45-minute tests, which were accessible by iPhones, were open-book and only included written responses, with no multiple choice questions. Security measures including anti-plagiarism software were expected to discourage cheating.

AP test takers can earn college credit if they score high enough on the AP exams, which are offered in 38 subjects including biology, U.S. history and Spanish. Information has not yet been released about how AP tests will be administered in 2020-21.

ACT is holding in-person exam sessions in September, October and December, but may offer online exams in 2021. Additional  information is available at www.ACT.org.

In-person SAT exams started up again August 29 and Sept. 3. Future tests are scheduled Oct. 3, Nov. 7 and Dec. 5. However, testing centers can close due to Covid-19 and all students who take tests must wear masks and adhere to other safety precautions. Students can obtain access to free online prep resources at https://www.khanacademy.org/sat

Both the University of California system and CSU systems have suspended admission requirements for SAT or ACT tests for the class of 2021 and the UC system decided in May to abandon the SAT and ACT exams as a freshman admission requirement and to develop its own substitute standardized test by 2025. However, some campuses initially gave students the option of submitting those test scores as part of their application. But, a judge ruled Sept. 1 that all UC campuses must suspend use of the tests in admissions decisions. Some students want to take the SAT/ACT but are finding it difficult to find scheduled exams.

Q: If school is closed, can parents still arrange play dates for their children, or have groups of children together to do homework?

A: Limiting social interactions for children with their friends is tough, but under the statewide order to “stay home,” children can not visit in their friends homes and the order specifies that babysitters or other caregivers can visit other homes, but with precautions for social distancing and hand washing. The symptoms of the coronavirus can take days to show up, and people can be contagious even if they do not yet have symptoms. Also, each additional child has other circles of contacts — their family and the people their family is in touch with.

In lieu of in-person play dates, some families are setting up video play dates for their kids, and encouraging them to write letters or emails to other family members or friends.

However, individual counties including Alameda and Contra Costa are allowing small groups called “social bubbles” to gather. According to Alameda County guidance, a social bubble must not have more than 12 individuals and can be comprised of a combination of ideally two or three households, but those in the social bubble must not participate in more than one social bubble in a three-week period. The social bubble must gather outdoors such as in a park or a backyard. Face coverings may be removed when eating or drinking and social bubbles must stay at least six feet away from other social bubbles.

Q: Can I still send my child to daycare or preschool? What about hiring a nanny or babysitter? 

The best way to help contain the spread of the coronavirus is to keep your child home. However, on June 5, the state issued guidelines for childcare centers, as various sectors in the state began to reopen, then followed up with updated guidance on July 17 for child care programs and providers. The state has also issued “Support for Working Families” guidance with additional information related to childcare and other resources. And some schools or community agencies are providing child care “learning hubs” for school-age children, where they can participate in the distance learning offered by their schools.

Q: Have any California schoolchildren or teachers been diagnosed with the coronavirus?

A: Yes. Of the 746,191 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state as of Sept. 10, 76,136 were children ages 0-17, 447,876 were adults between the ages of 18 and 49, 141,078 were adults between 50 and 64, 80,183 were adults 65 or older, and 918 were people whose ages were not known. Of the 14,089 deaths due to the virus, three were ages 5-17, including one teenager in the Central Valley with underlying health conditions. Details about which school he may have attended were not released.

Two K-12 students and one substitute teacher were publicly identified as testing positive for the virus before schools closed throughout the state last March. The students attended an elementary school in Elk Grove Unified and a private Catholic school operated by the San Francisco Archdiocese. The substitute teacher, who died March 15, worked in the Sacramento Unified School District.

Q: What are the symptoms of the coronavirus and what should parents or guardians do if their child develops them?

A: The symptoms of the coronavirus are similar in children and adults and can be mild or severe. Those symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, shortness of breath and sometimes vomiting or diarrhea.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, children do not seem to be at higher risk of getting the coronavirus although some children and infants have been sick with the disease and one has died in California. Older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like lung disease, diabetes or suppressed immune systems are at higher risk of contracting the virus and possibly dying.

The CDC recommends contacting a healthcare provider for medical advice if you think you or your children have been exposed and have any of the symptoms. The CDC has also released additional tips to help keep children healthy while schools are closed to in-person instruction that include suggested routines for continuing children’s education at home.

Information about testing sites and other resources is available on the state’s website.

Q: Especially now that many schools are closed indefinitely, what should I tell my child about the virus?

A: The Centers for Disease Control has a number of recommendations. These include:

  • Remain calm and reassuring.
  • Make yourself available to listen and to talk.
  • Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma.
  • Pay attention to what children see or hear on television, radio or online.
  • Provide information that is honest and accurate.
  • Teach children everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs.

The National Association of School Psychologists has also issued helpful hints for parents similar to those from the CDC. Among them: Limit television viewing or access to information on the internet and through social media. Try to avoid watching or listening to information that might be upsetting when your children are present.

State Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris has released a 1-minute video on Twitter to help parents and caregivers talk to children about the coronavirus.

Burke-Harris urges adults to approach the conversation calmly, ask what children have heard and allow them to share their fears, correct any misinformation, reassure them, and remind them about the importance of proper hygiene, healthy eating and exercise.

In addition, Burke-Harris stresses the need for adults to take care of themselves. She urges the public to visit www.covid19.ca.gov for coronavirus information and resources, which are updated regularly.

National Public Radio has created a comic to help parents talk to their children about the virus. And the independent national nonprofit The Child Mind Institute, which focuses on children’s mental health, has posted an article titled: “Talking to kids about the coronavirus: Kids worry more when they’re kept in the dark.”

Staff writers Theresa Harrington, Larry Gordon, Sydney Johnson, Zaidee Stavely, Diana Lambert, Ali Tadayon, Daniel J. Willis and Louis Freedberg contributed to this report

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