Desert Sun: Schools could reopen as early as July? Coachella Valley districts surprised by Newsom outline

, Palm Springs Desert Sun

Published: 5:24 p.m. PT April 28, 2020

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement Tuesday that schools could reopen in a few months took Coachella Valley districts by surprise.

California schoolchildren could return to their classrooms as soon as late July, though likely with modifications, Newsom said as he outlined plans for easing stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Newsom said no official decisions have been made, but he acknowledged there have been “learning losses” as parents have sought to teach their kids from home since most schools and classrooms closed in mid-March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

School districts and families have struggled to adapt to at-home learning and the deficits have been even greater in homes without technology or where parents are essential workers who are not at home to do home-schooling, he said.

“That learning loss is very real,” Newsom said. “If we can maybe start up the school year a little earlier, maybe we can help close that gap.”

In response to Newsom’s remarks, state Superintendent Tony Thurmond issued a statement Tuesday, saying he had heard of the early-opening plan for the first time that day.

Nevertheless, reopening the schools this summer could “help us address equity issues facing our most vulnerable students,” he said. But, he added, the state will need to answer some major questions, including, “can this be done in a way that protects the health and safety of our students, teachers and school staff?”

He suggested that directives to implement social distancing practices in classrooms could require smaller classes, more teachers and more resources. He also said teachers and school staff would need personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to ensure schools are sanitized.

“We expect that some form of social distancing will be with us through the summer, so if we start school early, we need resources to make it a reality,” he said.

Representatives for the Palm Springs Unified School District and Coachella Valley Unified School District were surprised by the governor’s announcement when contacted Tuesday by The Desert Sun.

Palm Springs Unified Superintendent Dr. Sandra Lyon addressed the news during the district’s Tuesday evening board meeting, which was broadcast over YouTube due to the state’s prohibition on gatherings during the pandemic.

“We hear a bold statement that says schools are set to start in late July or early August,” Lyon said, “and we have more questions raised than clarity around what that will look like.”

Lissette Santiago, a spokeswoman for the Coachella Valley School District, said the district received more details from the state superintendent Tuesday afternoon.

“As soon as we know what this information means to our district we will be able to notify our district families,” Santiago said.

A spokesperson for the Desert Sands Unified School District could not be reached.

California schools may look radically different than before, according to Sonia Angell, the state’s public health director, however she and Newsom provided few details on what education would be like.

Newsom previously said schools may launch with staggered start times to limit the number of students in the school at one time and make changes to recess, lunch and other school gatherings that draw large groups of students together. And school districts will have leeway in implementing the changes, which will need to be worked out with the teachers’ unions.

Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser ordered the closure of all Riverside County public schools, as well as preschools, charter schools, private schools and all colleges and universities in the county on March 13. Originally slated to be lifted April 3, his order was later extended through June 19.

The amended order came as county health officials projected a surge of local coronavirus cases and related hospitalizations that were expected to push medical facilities to capacity in mid-April. However, the number of hospitalized patients continues to be manageable and hasn’t demanded more from the county’s hospitals than they can provide, health officials said.

Superintendents from the Coachella Valley’s three school districts notified families of the extended closure on April 1 and said they would continue to provide distance learning through the end of the school year.