EDITOR’S NOTE: The previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the state had set aside $5.3 million for more robust distancing learning infrastructure. The correct figure is $5.3 billion.
REGION — Though it may be months before students can physically return to the classroom, school districts around North County are preparing their campuses so that students and staff can effectively follow strict social distancing and other health guidelines when they go back.
Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) discussed the reopening of schools during his July 22 virtual town hall. He emphasized that for schools to reopen, Californians must follow the state’s public health and social distancing guidelines.
“The quickest way we get the schools reopened is we get off the watch list for 14 straight days, and that means we need to follow those guidelines,” Levin said.
Levin represents the 49th congressional district, which includes parts of Orange County and north San Diego County. Both San Diego and Orange counties are on the state’s COVID-19 watch list.
Schools are able to begin reopening after their counties have been removed from the watch list and remain off of it for 14 consecutive days, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s July 17 public health orders. Schools will need to follow strict guidelines once they reopen, including a strong mask requirement and strong physical distancing requirements.
Levin said the state has set aside $5.3 billion for more robust distancing learning infrastructure.
Levin also noted the federal CARES Act allocated $13 billion for K-12 education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic but it wasn’t enough. The House of Representatives passed the Heroes Act, which would provide an additional $58 billion for K-12 education, but that bill is currently sitting in the Senate.
Oceanside Unified School District Superintendent Julie Vitale, who was featured as a guest speaker during the town hall, said she was “quite pleased” with Newsom’s order on July 17, particularly his take on masks.
“He was very clear that when staff does come back to work they are required to wear masks,” Vitale said.
Masks will also be mandatory for students in third grade and older, and strongly recommended for younger students.
Vitale added that the school district is providing both facemasks and shields to staff and students.
The superintendent said her district and others throughout the state have been working on preparing the schools for students and staff to return throughout the summer and since they closed on March 13.
Vitale said the return of students to school is “absolutely what we want, we just need to ensure their safety.”
The district has prepared its campuses with signage to remind people to wear their masks and to continue practicing social distancing, frequent hand-washing and sanitizing, and has also stocked schools with extra cleaning supplies. Sanitizing will be done on a daily basis, according to Vitale.
“We will be ready when we can finally open,” Vitale said. “We’re excited to have scholars back on campus.”
Vitale also said the district has been training its staff on virtual learning programs even before the shutdown happened, including strategies for online English language development programs that support English learners. The school is also providing training for parents and staff on how to access online tools for student assessment.
Staff will also be continuing digital support via telephone in both Spanish and English to parents trying to navigate their students’ lessons.
One constituent asked if either Levin or Vitale considered teachers essential workers.
Levin referred to the state guidelines that define what an essential worker is, which he explained are workers who have “no practical way” of working remotely.
“There’s no question teachers are fundamental to society — they’re heroes,” Levin said. “I don’t think we should be sending them back to work without considering the public health risks and considering alternatives to mitigate those risks.”
Vitale said she considers her entire staff as “essential.” She explained that while some of her staff cannot work remotely, such as campus groundskeepers, other staff and administrators like her can work remotely.