Most California schools will likely remain closed for the rest of the school year because of the new coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.
Nearly all the state’s schools — about 98.8% — have already shut down as the most populous state tries to stop the spread of the virus, and the rest will soon, he said.
“I would plan and assume it is unlikely that many of these schools, few if any, will open before the summer break,” he said in a news conference streamed online.
“I don’t want to mislead you, to six-plus million kids in our system and their families, they need to make some plans at a time when a lot of plans are already being curtailed,” said Newsom, a father of four children. “But planning with kids is some of the most challenging planning.”
For the 6.1 million children no longer in school, the state plans to release new curriculum guidelines every Friday, including online learning available from PBS.
“We want to make sure that learning is still occurring online, but we are diving deep into curating the capacity to deliver what we’re promoting, which is home-schooling your children,” Newsom said.
The state has applied for a federal waiver that means children would not have to face academic tests once they eventually return to school, said Newsom, a Democrat.
“We think it is totally inappropriate for kids to worry about coming back and being tested,” he said.
Newsom said he returned home Monday after a hectic day to find one of his two daughters, 6-year-old Brooklynn, in her room, her stuffed bunny and most of her bedding on the floor, as she cried about the schools being closed and that she could not see her friends.
The girl wanted to go back to school and was having “deep stress and anxiety,” Newsom said.
“I told her, ‘Honey, I don’t think the schools are going to open again,’ ” Newsom said. “If I can tell my daughter that and not tell your daughter … then I’m not being honest and true to the people of the state of California. Boy I hope I’m wrong, but I believe that to be the case.”
Many of the shuttered schools may be used to provide meals to lower-income students, he said after meeting with hospital officials to discuss ramping up “surge capacity” to handle a likely flood of coronavirus patients.
“We believe we will repurpose not just our operating rooms to potential ICU rooms, which was our conversation today to meet this pandemic, but we’ll repurpose a lot of our school sites not only for congregate meals and food to go but also to potentially address these child care needs,” he said.
Providing child care at time when residents are supposed to remain well separated to avoid spreading the disease brings its own challenges, Newsom said.
Those caregivers “will want to have personally protective gear, make sure social distancing is practiced, make sure that we not just secure the sites but make sure that they’re healthy,” he said.
He said some of the money approved by state lawmakers on Monday could go to help with that effort.
Newsom signed into law Tuesday a bill that makes sure any public school that closes because of the virus will keep its state funding. That includes $100 million for schools to use to either purchase personal protective gear for staff or pay for cleaning.
He also signed legislation allowing him to spend up to $1 billion “for any item for any purpose” related to his March 4 declaration of emergency or the coronavirus outbreak. Initially, Newsom will have $500 million to spend. But he can increase that spending in $50 million increments, as long as he tells lawmakers about it at least three days in advance. The spending cuts off at $1 billion.