California schools face avalanche of changes
“Everything Everywhere All At Once” is the name of a 2022 film, but it could also describe the cascade of changes confronting California schools as they welcome students back to campus after more than two years of pandemic-disrupted education.
Although many COVID restrictions have loosened — most schools have ended mandatory testing programs, made face masks optional and aligned with the state in delaying enforcement of student coronavirus vaccine mandates until July 1, 2023 at the earliest — districts are contending with plenty of other new policies. On top of that, they’re taking precautions against the low risk of monkeypox transmission on campus and helping kids catch up on delayed health screenings and immunizations.
One of the biggest shifts: a state law that went into effect July 1 requiring middle schools to start no earlier than 8 a.m. and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m, though campuses can also offer “zero period” classes earlier in the morning.
Supporters of the first-in-the-nation policy, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in 2019, cite what they say is “overwhelming research” showing that later school start times result in kids sleeping more, which improves their health and academic performance.
But some educators have warned that delaying school start times could have unintended consequences — a point corroborated by dispatches from districts complying with the law for the first time. Hurdles include:
- Interference with parents’ work schedules. “How are working parents supposed to drop kids off at the school?” Nelson Alarcon, the parent of a Los Angeles Unified high school student, asked the Los Angeles Times.
- Limited transportation. Many districts, already grappling with a severe shortage of bus drivers, are now finding it more difficult to stagger routes and schedules — prompting some, including Preuss Charter School in La Jolla, to eliminate bus service entirely for some grades. Now, some of the school’s low-income students of color are facing two-hour commutes on public transportation — prompting six kids to drop out, the San Diego-Union Tribune reports.
- Seemingly less time in the day. “As predicted, the new schedules do present challenges for students who work part-time jobs, are responsible for child care for siblings and who participate in sports and extracurricular activities,” Troy Flint, spokesperson for the California School Boards Association, told the Mercury News. “It’s harder to recuperate after school when it’s dark by the time you get home and you have piles of work to do,” added Aiara Reyes, a senior at Wilcox High School in Santa Clara.
But others see promise in delaying school start times. Garden Grove Unified School District, for example, is expanding early morning programming to include free tutoring and sessions on art, fitness and mindfulness.
- Terri Shook, a special assignment teacher overseeing the district’s before- and after-school programs, told the Orange County Register: “We see this as an opportunity to offer programs for students that can address learning loss, social-emotional learning and offer enrichment opportunities.”
Among the other massive shifts in California’s public education system:
- The Golden State is beginning to phase in universal transitional kindergarten, which aims to eventually enroll all 4-year-olds in a bridge program between preschool and kindergarten. Kids turning 5 between Sept. 2 and Feb. 2 are eligible to attend this school year, though some districts are enrolling even younger students. Hampering the expansion, however, is California’s shortage of early childhood educators.
- California is also now offering two free school meals a day for all students, no questions asked. (However, a proposal to provide low-income students with debit cards to cover meal costs when school isn’t in session failed in a secretive legislative process last week, the Los Angeles Times reports.)
- The state is investing billions of dollars in so-called community schools, which offer wraparound services such as mental health care, pediatric appointments and other social programs to students and their families. California in May approved a first round of grants worth $649 million, and plans to roll out more planning and implementation grants this school year.
- And last week, the state opened college savings accounts for low-income kids in K-12 public schools and for all infants born on or after July 1, 2022. While some applauded the move, others pointed out it that it duplicates existing programs.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 10,104,761 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 93,378 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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1 California ensnared in regional water war
Today, the federal government is set to provide updates on high-intensity negotiations between California and six other Western states to reach an agreement for massively slashing the amount of water they pull from the increasingly parched Colorado River. So far, a deal has yet to materialize. “Despite the obvious urgency of the situation, the last sixty-two days produced exactly nothing in terms of meaningful collective action to help forestall the looming crisis,” John Entsminger, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, wrote in a Monday letter to federal officials.
As tensions mount and possible legal battles loom, many water managers are seeking major cuts from California — which receives more than a third of the Colorado River’s natural flow, far more than any other state, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. Much of that water goes to the Imperial Irrigation District, which supplies nearly 475,000 acres of farmland and some communities in southeastern California. Most of the remaining water goes to the giant Metropolitan Water District, which supplies 19 million people and has already implemented steep cuts for its customers who rely on water from another key source, the desiccated State Water Project. (Separately, the Metropolitan Water District is suspending outdoor watering on Sept. 4-20 for more than 4 million residents to make emergency repairs to a leaking pipeline.)
- J.B. Hamby, a board member of the Imperial Irrigation District, told the Los Angeles Times: The states are “a ways from any agreements being inked. … Significant contributions are not really forthcoming at this time, which is unfortunate, because that’s really what’s needed in order to prevent the system from completely crashing. … Everybody needs to commit to a significant sacrifice in order to avoid having nothing at all.”
2 Gascón recall effort fails
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón will not face a recall election after supporters of the effort to oust the progressive prosecutor from office failed to collect enough valid signatures for the second time in as many years, county elections officials said Monday. Although recall supporters turned in nearly 716,000 signatures, just more than 520,000 of them were found to be valid — far fewer than the nearly 567,000 required to qualify the election for the ballot, officials said. They found that nearly 90,000 of the signatures came from people who weren’t registered voters and close to another 44,000 people signed the petitions twice.
- Gascón tweeted: “Grateful to move forward from this attempted political power grab-rest assured LA County, the work hasn’t stopped. My primary focus has been & will always be keeping us safe & creating a more equitable justice system for all.”
- In a statement, the recall campaign said it plans “to exercise its full statutory and legal authority to review the rejected signatures and verification process that took place and will ultimately seek to ensure no voter was disenfranchised.”
The scuttled recall attempt suggests that criminal justice reform is not on its way out the door in California, despite increased voter concerns over crime and the successful June recall of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, another controversial progressive prosecutor. And it could have implications for the November general election: The races for Los Angeles mayor and California attorney general feature showdowns between candidates with a more traditional law-and-order approach and a more progressive tack.
- Nathan Hochman, the Republican attorney general candidate facing off against Democratic incumbent Rob Bonta, said in a statement: “Now more than ever, we need a California Attorney General to step in to counter the policies of Gascon and other pro-criminal DAs who refuse to address the homeless crisis crippling our cities and the soft-on-crime approach that endangers everyone.”
3 Calls for action descend on Capitol
With just a few weeks left before the end of the legislative session, advocacy groups are ramping up their requests for action from Newsom — who signed a slim stack of bills Monday — and state lawmakers. A few key examples:
- Today, fast food workers are set to converge at the state Capitol for two days of rallies in support of a controversial bill — a version of which failed to clear the Legislature last year — that would allow the state to negotiate wages, hours and work conditions for the entire fast food industry, which employs more than 700,000 Californians. Some workers plan to sleep outside the Capitol “to make it impossible for lawmakers to ignore their demand,” according to the advocacy group Fight for $15 and a Union. About 100 people are expected to participate, according to event permits approved by the California Highway Patrol.
- Meanwhile, members of the United Farm Workers union are about halfway through a 24-day, 355-mile march from Delano to Sacramento to push Newsom to sign a bill to allow farmworkers to vote by mail in union elections, a version of which he vetoed last year. Farmworkers, who set out on a 22-mile leg of the journey on Monday, are expected to arrive at the Capitol on Aug. 26. “It’s 91 degrees now and the high is expected to reach a high of 104 degrees,” the union tweeted Monday. “But we will not be deterred from reaching Sacramento and telling @Cagovernor Newsom to sign” the bill.
- As Newsom pushes lawmakers to take urgent, last-minute climate action, some of the state’s most influential labor groups and automobile and energy companies sent him a Monday letter requesting a $300 million budget allocation to build 1,000 hydrogen fueling stations across California in the next decade. “At this still early stage in market development, the signal California sends on hydrogen will impact private investment decisions,” the coalition wrote, noting that “beyond its environmental attributes, hydrogen also provides a transitional pathway for skilled and trained, high-wage labor jobs in the oil and gas sectors.” Among the letter’s signatories: the president of the powerful State Building and Construction Trades Council and the chief executives of Toyota, Hyundai, Chevron, Shell, Linde and True Zero.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Two lawsuits continue California’s decades-long battle over the ability of state and local governments to impose taxes.
Transparency is key to pay equity for contract workers: It’s time for California to close the loopholes that shield a $35 billion staffing industry from the same rules and regulations that every other private company has to follow, argues Gretchen Newsom, a member of the California Employment Training Panel.
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