In summary

While California’s politicians wrangle, millions of school kids are stuck at home due to COVID-19 and their educations are suffering.

Had the official response to COVID-19 been error-free, it still would be having devastating, life-altering effects on California.

However, management — mostly by Gov. Gavin Newsom — has been erratic at best and bumbling at worst, thus magnifying the pandemic’s impact on 40 million Californians and quite likely costing human lives.

The Employment Development Department’s mangled delivery of unemployment insurance benefits is one spectacular example — handing out billions of dollars to fraudsters while amassing a huge backlog of legitimate claims.

Last week, Newsom indirectly acknowledged his administration’s equally bollixed management of lifesaving vaccines by turning it over to two big health care organizations, Blue Shield and Kaiser Permanente.

And then there are the schools.

For nearly a year, most of California’s 6-plus million public school students have been confined to at-home instruction via the internet as officials and very influential school unions sparred over how they could be safely returned to the classroom.

“In fall 2020, fewer than 70% of students had live instruction (by computer) at least four days a week and 18% had no live instruction at all,” the Public Policy Institute of California found in a recent study.”

PPIC noted that “this decrease could be offset by additional student study hours,” but added, “students are spending less time on learning activities on their own than they did before the pandemic — only 38% now spend as much or more time on all learning activities.”

“These trends are cause for concern as distance learning continues, threatening to widen racial and socioeconomic disparities as many students fall further behind,” PPIC concluded.

Newsom’s own children returned to classes at a private school and he often declares support for reopening public schools, but he hasn’t made it happen.

Newsom seems to be caught between the obvious need for schools to reopen, supported by haggard parents, and the reluctance of the unions to have it happen, contending that it would be unsafe.

Last month, in a new state budget proposal, Newsom offered $2 billion in incentives for school systems to reopen soon with safety guidelines such as levels of local infection, four-foot gaps between student desks, and vaccinations.

However, local education officials complained that Newsom’s plan wasn’t fully baked. “The governor’s reopening plan, combined with the lack of vaccination coordination, has set all school districts back to a weaker position than we were in October,” Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin said at one legislative hearing.

Meanwhile, teacher unions say Newsom’s safety standards are not strict enough. They are joined at the hip with the Legislature’s dominant Democrats, so the plan’s fate is uncertain.

Indecision by Newsom and legislators is mirrored in the angst among local school officials, who are also being pressured by their unions to keep schools closed and by parents tired of nagging their kids to attend internet classes and of ever-changing rules.

Karen Combest spoke for many parents when she arose at a Roseville Joint Union High School District board meeting a few days ago.

 “My daughter started distance learning on Aug. 12, then hybrid two days a week on Oct. 12, then five days a week full-time on Jan. 5, and may now be forced to go back to two days a week due to the four-foot rule? Where is the consistency? Where is the science?” she asked.

Sponsors of a drive to recall Newsom are tapping into angry parents as they circulate petitions to force an election. But his fate is less important than the simple fact that the lives of millions of children are being adversely affected.

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Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times...