In summary

Coronavirus pandemic expected to keep schools closed for rest of academic year. State launches investivgation into use of charities by legislators.

Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, March 32. Just kidding, March is finally over. It’s April 1. Happy April Fool’s Day!

State schools chief: Campuses are “unsafe for our students”

CA Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond at Blue Oak Elementary School in Shingle Springs in October. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Remember a few weeks ago when Gov. Gavin Newsom said schools likely wouldn’t reopen before summer? Well, it looks as if that’s going to be the case.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond told county education officials in a letter Tuesday it “currently appears students will not be able to return … before the end of the school year.” He added, “It is unsafe for our students to be served on school campuses at this time,” emphasizing that schools should focus instead on distance learning.

Although Thurmond didn’t issue an official directive, his guidance will likely push many school districts to close their doors for the school year.

Still, California schools will continue to offer instruction online. “This is in no way to suggest that school is over for the year,” Thurmond wrote. (Some other states, however, have stopped offering instruction entirely.) Many California schools are hammering out plans for online learning — but it remains a challenge. CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano has reported on the difficulties of adapting distance learning to account for socioeconomic disparities and translating special education online.

California colleges are also reeling from coronavirus closures. Some have instituted pass/fail grading to account for disruptions, but some students worry the policy could adversely impact graduate school applications. Community college students are also concerned that taking classes pass/fail could affect their ability to transfer to four-year universities, UC Berkeley student Vanessa Arredondo reports via CalMatters’ College Journalism Network.

  • Curious how K-12 schools plan to handle online learning? CalMatters is hosting a webinar today at 1 p.m. with Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the CA State Board of Education, and Cindy Marten, superintendent of San Diego Unified School District. Register here and submit your questions here.
  • And register for our livestream Thursday at 1 p.m. with California State University Chancellor Tim White to discuss how California colleges are handling online learning. Submit questions here.

Other CA coronavirus updates

  • Did you know we’re now on Day 68 of coronavirus coverage in California? Days and events can seem to blend together. This CalMatters timeline takes you through the pandemic as it hit California.
  • Newsom announced Tuesday a new state hotline that people — particularly older, isolated Californians — can call for local non-medical services, such as food delivery and mental health care. The number is 833-544-2374.
  • After calling on retired doctors and medical students to help with the surge of coronavirus cases, Newsom also said Tuesday that 25,000 licensed health care providers have applied to join the California Health Corps.

The Bottom Line: As of 10 p.m. Tuesday night, California had 8,548 confirmed coronavirus cases and 181 deaths from the virus, according to a Los Angeles Times tracker. (These numbers are different from those of the state Department of Public Health, which are updated less often.)

Other stories you should know

1. State investigating use of charities by legislators

Illustration by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters. Elements via iStock

Following a CalMatters investigation, California’s political watchdog agency is rethinking the laws permitting elected officials to solicit donations to nonprofits controlled by them, their relatives or their staff, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. One Fair Political Practices Commissioner said she’s concerned about the potential for “self dealing” and politicians using charitable contributions to subsidize their lifestyles.

2. California poised to sue Trump again over fuel emission rollbacks

Cars stuck in traffic in San Francisco, California
Photo via iStock

Prepare for another legal showdown between California and the federal government over fuel emission standards. The Trump administration Tuesday significantly loosened Obama-era rules requiring cars and trucks to improve their fuel economy by 5% per year. The new target is a less stringent 1.5% yearly improvement — and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is prepared to sue, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports.

  • The lower standards are projected to produce an additional 1.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution by 2040 and contribute to more than 250,000 asthma attacks by 2050.
  • California sued the Trump administration twice after it said the state didn’t have the right to set its own emissions standards. Those lawsuits likely won’t be resolved until next year.

3. Dept. of Public Health to provide less coronavirus data to public

The California Department of Public Health said Monday it will release only a daily total of coronavirus infections and stop providing information about whether they were caused by community spread, person-to-person interaction or travel. Health care workers say the change is an attempt to cover up how many of them are being infected because of a lack of personal protective equipment, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

4. As unemployment surges, beware of loan sharks and debt traps

Money Mart payday loans and check cashing store in Sacramento, California. Photo via Creative Commons
Money Mart payday loans and check-cashing store in Sacramento. Photo via Creative Commons

As millions of Americans lose their jobs or face reduced hours because of the coronavirus pandemic, financial experts say loan sharks are looking for blood. Although the number of payday lenders in California has decreased over the past decade, the majority are located in ZIP codes with above-average poverty rates. The Fresno Bee’s Manuela Tobias compiled a list of tips for how to get financial help without falling into a debt trap.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: While the federal government and President Donald Trump have been criticized for failing to prepare for the pandemic, California officials, including former Gov. Jerry Brown, also were lax.

We shouldn’t have to close parks: Instead of closing California parks and trails to halt the transmission of the coronavirus, why can’t we safely manage these resources by practicing physical distancing? writes Manal Aboelata, deputy executive director of the Prevention Institute.

Will women gain ground in November? Although the number of women in the California Legislature is at an all-time high, they make up less than one-third of members. Will their numbers increase in November? ask Susie and Steve Swatt, co-authors of “Paving the Way: Women’s Struggle for Political Equality in California.”

Other things worth your time

Even more restrictive rules in Bay Area: Six counties extend shelter-in-place through May 3, close playgrounds, tennis courts, golf courses, dog parks and more. // The San Francisco Chronicle

How Tesla fought to keep its Fremont factory open despite coronavirus restrictions. // The Los Angeles Times 

Should we all be wearing masks? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are considering it. // The Washington Post

Fresno’s doctor shortage just cost the county 100 coronavirus emergency hospital beds. // The Fresno Bee/CalMatters

So far Newsom’s used social pressure, not punishment — but does he need to up the ante? // The Los Angeles Times

Bottoms up: Bay Area residents drinking 42% more alcohol while sheltering in place. // The San Francisco Chronicle

PG&E no longer plans to pay involuntary manslaughter fines from fire victims fund. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Forget drive-in movie theaters: Drive-in churches are gaining popularity. // The Orange County Register

Bay Area residents are putting teddy bears in their windows to entertain kids during the coronavirus pandemic. // ABC7 News


See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven wrote the daily WhatMatters newsletter for three years at CalMatters . Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco...